Election day is still more than six months away, but now that Rick Santorum has dropped out of the Republican primary, the race for the White House has begun. The fight is now between the two remaining contenders: the incumbent President Barack Obama and his challenger, Mitt Romney.
Santorum’s exit has shifted the campaign away from the exasperating debate over ethics and back towards the traditional issues of campaigns past, such as the economy and foreign policy.
Obama has a head start according to the polls, with a 5 to 10 percent lead over Romney, but nobody in the United States thinks that Obama’s race will be a walk in the park.
While he is no expert in electoral campaigning, Romney has nevertheless gathered an impressive amount of funding, including some from contributors that have backed Obama in the past, while Obama has to defend himself from the sometimes less than stellar results of four difficult years in office.
Obama’s first campaign challenge will be to face criticism over the widespread feeling of America’s declining power in the worldwide political and economic arena, a justified feeling although certainly no fault of Obama’s. America’s decline is the result of the inevitable evolution of history, accelerated of course by the errors of his predecessor, starting with the war in Iraq.
Obama has spent the past four years correcting a strategy that, despite the enormous economic and military resources of the United States, had become unsustainable, but you can’t revive the enthusiasm of an entire population by merely plugging the holes. Firing up the voting public requires clear and comprehensible decisions, and those that were made were hardly so, especially decisions regarding the Middle East.
There have been too many corrections and uncertainties, and too often did the actions fail to live up to the words, although reorganizing a government that has lost its direction is neither easy nor quick. It bears mentioning that it is extremely difficult to earn the approval of the public when reality forces you to rethink your original objectives.
The real battle will therefore be fought over the economy: growth, employment, and taxes.
In this respect the President may be holding a decent hand, because although it is moving slowly and in fits and starts, the country seems to have surpassed the darkest days of the financial crisis. This hand is by no means a winner on its own, however, and could easily be turned on its head by a negative unemployment report or a few bad days on the stock exchange.
Other important campaign decisions will pose problems for both candidates and their efforts to gauge public opinion. Republicans propose cuts to Social Security, but do so with a certain hesitation due to the many elderly electors who depend on the vital resource, beginning with Floridians, a typically Republican population. Democrats instead call for cuts to the military, but must be careful not to hurt jobs tied to defense spending.
The first shots have already been fired in the debate over the taxation of the wealthiest Americans, the so-called “Buffet Rule,” named after the billionaire investor who denounced the absurdity of a fiscal system that allowed him to pay a lower tax rate than his secretary. Obama has seized on this opportunity to stand with the 99%, to borrow a term from Occupy Wall Street, against the mega-rich 1% of Americans. The Republicans have been quick to stir up public fears of higher taxes for everyone if Obama were to be re-elected. A well-known campaign tactic, the ability to sow fear of higher taxes in the hearts of voters is like wielding an electoral atom bomb. The next phase of this delicate battle over the need to correct the growing inequality in America will be part of the political debate by next week. [Editor’s note: Senate Republicans blocked the “Buffet Rule” two days after the original publication of this article on April 15]
President Obama still has an ace up his sleeve, for now, knowing that he can count on the female vote. It might be his charming personality, or it could be that women’s average salary, historically much lower than men’s, has risen gradually since Obama entered office. In any case, there is little to speculate upon regarding this factor.
Although his detractors portray him as withered and aged, recent opinion polls give Obama 57% of the women’s vote, while Romney commands only 38%. This lead is the most valuable asset Obama can count on at the start of a long and difficult electoral campaign.