Is next year’s election a referendum on President Obama? Or a choice between him and his yet-to-be-determined Republican opponent? It’s perhaps the central question of the 2012 election, and, not surprisingly, it divided the opinions of a Democratic and Republican consultant who spoke at National Journal’s 2012 Election Preview.
Most strategists say the president has a better chance of winning if he can frame the election as a choice between himself and the Republican nominee. But the country’s still-struggling economy will make voters see the election as a chance to vent frustration with the president, said Charlie Black, a longtime GOP operative.
“I think the president can keep this is a close race, but I don’t see how he can win if there’s no movement or turning around in people’s perception of the economy,” Black said. “And he only has a few months to do so.”
As the Republican presidential candidates battle for the party’s nomination, Obama has been unable to draw a sharp contrast on issues like middle-class tax cuts and the environment. But he’ll get that chance the moment a GOP candidate emerges.
On most issues, 50 percent to 60 percent of voters agree with the president, said Steve McMahon, a Democratic consultant. He cautioned against under-rating a president who is just shifting into campaign mode.
“Anyone who sells the president short is making a big mistake here,” he said.