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Obama in 2012: Five Advantages (and Five Disadvantages) Obama in 2012: Five Advantages (and Five Disadvantages)

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White House / Campaign 2012

Obama in 2012: Five Advantages (and Five Disadvantages)

(Pablo Martinez Monsivais-Pool/Getty Images)

photo of Marc Ambinder
April 4, 2011

President Obama officially announced he'll run for reelection in 2012 on Monday. Here are five advantages he brings to his campaign (and click here for five disadvantages he faces).

1. Independents


Independents remain fickle and not particularly enamored with Republicans, meaning Obama has a chance at winning them over. Also, the independents who voted for Obama in 2008 did so because he promised to restore America’s standing in the world. He can argue he's done that in 2012.

2. The Idea War

Obama isn't losing the idea war. If anything, it's fluid, and he can exploit that. Some top (potential) Republican challengers have strong records, but what it will gain them is unclear. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has a roster of impressive accomplishments, Newt Gingrich is a conspicuous idea man, and Haley Barbour is known for his political acumen, but they each have their negatives. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s record in Minnesota can help win him some votes in a primary, but it isn’t necessarily scalable to a general audience. And Mitt Romney’s best day in office, when he signed health legislation as Massachusetts’s governor, is one he’d rather forget.

3. Organizing for America

Obama has an extremely well-oiled, responsive, grassroots election machine. Organizing for America, which became the campaign-in-exile during the past two years, has spent a lot of its time building capacity for 2012. Obama also runs the party now; there will be no period of adjustment. Add to this the synchronization of his senior staff: Everyone knows each other, is on the same page, and dissenting voices have been, quietly, purged.

4. Humility

By and large, Americans do not cotton to the “projection of strength” view of the world that the previous administration accepted as its mantra. They may have questions about where Obama is going, but humility remains a plus—not a minus—so long as they still envision America winning. Americans seem to struggle along with Obama as he tackles foreign policy challenges. That could be a sign that he won’t be hurt too much by those challenges in 2012.

5. Social Issues' Diminished Role

Social issues, by and large, seem less and less important to those Americans whose votes are switchable. This is a plus for Democrats and a minus for Republicans.

Five Disadvantages Obama Faces in His Reelection Bid

1. The Economy

That the economy will not have fully recovered by November 2012 has been priced into Obama’s stock. What matters is the perception of a relative recovery. And what feeds those perceptions is whether people know people who are struggling. A slow and steady increase in private-sector employment may not be sufficient, though, to remove the sense of urgency that voters project about jobs.

2. "Droppers" and "Switchers"

In the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way’s analysis of Obama's 2008 coalition, the “droppers”—Obama voters who stayed home in 2010—were mostly frustrated at politics in general. They were not disappointed in Obama per se. What reason will Obama give them to come out and vote? For self-described “switchers”—those who voted for Obama in 2008 but chose Republican candidates in 2010—a recovery economy is not going to be the panacea. These voters had problems with the Democratic brand and the perception that Democrats tilted far to the left, becoming out of sync with their values.

3. Obama's Identity

Who is Obama? What are his answers to the fear that America is in permanent decline? It was beneficial to have that question open in 2008, but it might hurt him in 2012. We’re supposed to know the man’s mind now and shouldn’t need to be told where he’s going to go. By this point in his first term, Americans knew enough about President George W. Bush to allow the Bush campaign to run against John Kerry—rather than in defense of Bush’s policies. Larger world events shaped what voters thought, of course. But we don’t have a fixed sense of who Obama is because he calibrates quite often, and there are thick threads of pragmatism running through his policy choices. He has a vision for the world, but he has communicated it better to the world than to audiences at home.

4. The Petulance of Professional Liberals

Obama’s pollsters think that this problem is overstated, pointing to surveys showing how popular the president remains with people who call themselves liberals and Democrats. But progressive elites have spent the past two years aggressively holding the president to his campaign promises, and in no way should Obama’s campaign assume that they will distribute the energy of the grassroots as effectively as they did in 2008, when they had a raucous primary to get them all fired up. Obama’s reelection command will have to be more humble. Contrast this with conservatives: They’re fired up, they're organized, and they plan to raise hundreds of millions outside the party to discredit Obama before the GOP primary ends.

5. The Economic Gloom of the Rust Belt and Midwest

It is here where Obama’s coalition simply didn’t show up in 2010, and Obama must find a way to win some combination of Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota, states that have shifted to the right. Skepticism of Obama remains intense here.

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