Obama Wins Close or Loses Big

President Barack Obama: narrow winner or big loser in November.  Presidential election history gives us indications that Mr. Obama either squeaks back into the White House or gets an undignified boot in the back of his designer trousers.  In modern presidential elections, only Jerry Ford lost his re-election bid narrowly.  Odds are, if Mr. Obama loses, it will probably be on the order of Hoover (1932) or Carter (1980). 

If Mr. Obama wins, it's closer to George W. Bush's re-election in 2004.  But the conditions are dramatically different in the country from 2004, and not to Mr. Obama's advantage.   

A narrow win by Mr. Obama would be thanks to bungling by Mitt Romney and the Republicans, because based on the president's record alone, Mr. Obama has richly earned a pink slip from voters.

The Obama presidency is a big, fat failure, despite all the spin emanating from the White House, Democrat flaks, and the left's petting-zoo media.  Americans are living Mr. Obama's economic failure daily; their dreary experiences (or those of family and neighbors) cut right through the liberal-manufactured smoke and fog.  Campaigns of distraction distract only monetarily.   

Incumbents are always about their performances, their records.  A politician up for re-election is a referendum-in-the-making; an up or down vote by the electorate.  That's the core strategic consideration of Romney's General Election campaign. 

In a referendum election, all Mr. Romney has to do is satisfy voters that he's competent, advocates sensible remedies to the nation's economic dilemma, and plans to stop Uncle Sam's profligate spending and not raise taxes.  Romney is well-suited to accomplish all three aims.  Romney's character hasn't been an issue through a grueling intraparty vetting; it shouldn't be one in the General Election, despite anticipated efforts by Mr. Obama's team and the left to do so.       

The heavy lift for Challenger Romney is keeping voters focused on Mr. Obama's dreadful policies.  President Obama will be throwing an estimated $1 billion against Mr. Romney.  Democrat and liberal allied groups and super PACs will drop some serious ching into the presidential election, too.  That's daunting, but can be overcome.  Losing incumbents and their allies tend to have the money edge in re-election contests.    

Romney needs to underscore Mr. Obama's policy failures with the fact that the president is a committed left-winger, which contradicts Mr. Obama's stated moderation in 2008.  Doing so bypasses Mr. Obama's likeability by damning the president with his own words and actions.  Mr. Obama's immoderation is the central reason for the ObamaCare fiasco and a floundering economy.   

Romney raising questions about Mr. Obama's inability to deliver on promises, his economic policies, his false moderation, and his evasion of constitutional checks and balances dovetails nicely with the argument that Barack Obama, lame duck, will prove more reckless and more ineffective, driving the economy further down, which spells grave trouble for the nation.   

A president's likeability is much overrated.  Hoover may have been unliked, but the same can't be said about incumbent losers Ford, Carter, and George H. Bush.  Those presidents lost their re-elections because voters perceived them as unsuccessful in their jobs.  Most voters would have gladly sat down over beers with any of those three men.

This opinion from veteran elections analyst Charlie Cook:

Some analysts mistakenly think that personal feelings and favorability ratings are the same as job-approval ratings. Although it is always better for a candidate to be liked than disliked, for an incumbent the perception of performance and effectiveness matters far more than likability. Voters didn't turn sour on President Ford in 1976; they just voted for change. Independent voters like President Obama, but the question is whether they think he has done a good job.

Indeed, Barack Obama is liked, according to polling.  When push comes to shove, though, when it's about voters' jobs, homes, and financial security, likability takes a distant second place.  Likeable employees are fired every day for nonperformance; they may get better severances, but off they go.  Voters have historically proven to be tough employers.           

National polling at this stage in the election game is interesting in that it tends to show Mr. Obama and Mitt Romney in a tight race.  If Mr. Obama were cooking with gas, he'd enjoy much wider margins nationally among likely voters.  Close indicates serious trouble ahead for Mr. Obama.

But national polls are chimeras, finally.  Presidents are elected state-by-state.  Come September, it's the state polls of likely voters that matters.  Reapportionment has shifted critical electoral votes to red states, favoring Romney.  Taking the states of Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida are keys to a Romney victory (presuming he retains McCain's states from 2008, as well he should). 

If voters are truly sour on the president, then other states like Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and New Mexico may well be in play after Labor Day.  Indiana is already expected to swing back into the GOP column. 

After Labor Day, if momentum breaks Romney's way, anticipate that he will carry independent and undecided voters in the aforementioned states.  Once the tide starts shifting against an incumbent, it tends to move hugely. 

Look at FDR's landslide victory in 1932 against the beleaguered Herbert Hoover.  Roosevelt ran a campaign highlighting Hoover's failures.  Contrary to the conventional wisdom, FDR didn't run on a bold progressive platform; a chief focus was on balancing the federal budget. 

In 1980, Ronald Reagan wrapped the misery index around Jimmy Carter's neck (that and his diffident handling of the Iranian hostage crisis).  Still, Carter led in the polls most of the way.  But in the autumn, when voters really started to concentrate on Carter's feeble record, and decided that Reagan was no wild-eyed radical, the dam broke and Carter was swept from office.                         

Successful presidents don't run "Campaigns of Distraction."  President Barack Obama, whose economic stimuli failed to stimulate the economy, but instead lined the pockets of powerful Democrat constituencies, needs to distract.  A president -- the very same Barack Obama -- whose federal credit card spending has dug the nation into a cavernous debt hole needs distractions. 

The president's signature legislative achievement, ObamaCare, never popular, now risks being overturned by the Supreme Court in late June.  If the Court overturns the individual mandate or the whole enchilada, the president and his fellow Democrats are relieved of the burden of having to defend so unworkable and freedom-depriving a program. 

What the president isn't off the hook on is explaining to voters why he wasted valuable time and resources pursuing a colossal dud-of-a-government-run health care program at the very time the economy was sinking.  Expect Mt. McKinley-sized distractions if the Supreme Court rules against Mr. Obama's health care scheme. 

This isn't to suggest complacency or smug self-assurance on the part of Republicans or conservatives... or Romney and his campaign.  History illuminates but doesn't dictate.  Run scared is the best advice for Mitt Romney.  To win in November, run scared and keep the focus relentlessly on Mr. Obama's magnificent failures.

Response to ccommenter:

JackKemp, you are correct.  Jerry Ford was appointed, not elected president.  A distinction I should have made in the article.  Nonetheless, he was the incumbent.  Thanks for the catch.

President Barack Obama: narrow winner or big loser in November.  Presidential election history gives us indications that Mr. Obama either squeaks back into the White House or gets an undignified boot in the back of his designer trousers.  In modern presidential elections, only Jerry Ford lost his re-election bid narrowly.  Odds are, if Mr. Obama loses, it will probably be on the order of Hoover (1932) or Carter (1980). 

If Mr. Obama wins, it's closer to George W. Bush's re-election in 2004.  But the conditions are dramatically different in the country from 2004, and not to Mr. Obama's advantage.   

A narrow win by Mr. Obama would be thanks to bungling by Mitt Romney and the Republicans, because based on the president's record alone, Mr. Obama has richly earned a pink slip from voters.

The Obama presidency is a big, fat failure, despite all the spin emanating from the White House, Democrat flaks, and the left's petting-zoo media.  Americans are living Mr. Obama's economic failure daily; their dreary experiences (or those of family and neighbors) cut right through the liberal-manufactured smoke and fog.  Campaigns of distraction distract only monetarily.   

Incumbents are always about their performances, their records.  A politician up for re-election is a referendum-in-the-making; an up or down vote by the electorate.  That's the core strategic consideration of Romney's General Election campaign. 

In a referendum election, all Mr. Romney has to do is satisfy voters that he's competent, advocates sensible remedies to the nation's economic dilemma, and plans to stop Uncle Sam's profligate spending and not raise taxes.  Romney is well-suited to accomplish all three aims.  Romney's character hasn't been an issue through a grueling intraparty vetting; it shouldn't be one in the General Election, despite anticipated efforts by Mr. Obama's team and the left to do so.       

The heavy lift for Challenger Romney is keeping voters focused on Mr. Obama's dreadful policies.  President Obama will be throwing an estimated $1 billion against Mr. Romney.  Democrat and liberal allied groups and super PACs will drop some serious ching into the presidential election, too.  That's daunting, but can be overcome.  Losing incumbents and their allies tend to have the money edge in re-election contests.    

Romney needs to underscore Mr. Obama's policy failures with the fact that the president is a committed left-winger, which contradicts Mr. Obama's stated moderation in 2008.  Doing so bypasses Mr. Obama's likeability by damning the president with his own words and actions.  Mr. Obama's immoderation is the central reason for the ObamaCare fiasco and a floundering economy.   

Romney raising questions about Mr. Obama's inability to deliver on promises, his economic policies, his false moderation, and his evasion of constitutional checks and balances dovetails nicely with the argument that Barack Obama, lame duck, will prove more reckless and more ineffective, driving the economy further down, which spells grave trouble for the nation.   

A president's likeability is much overrated.  Hoover may have been unliked, but the same can't be said about incumbent losers Ford, Carter, and George H. Bush.  Those presidents lost their re-elections because voters perceived them as unsuccessful in their jobs.  Most voters would have gladly sat down over beers with any of those three men.

This opinion from veteran elections analyst Charlie Cook:

Some analysts mistakenly think that personal feelings and favorability ratings are the same as job-approval ratings. Although it is always better for a candidate to be liked than disliked, for an incumbent the perception of performance and effectiveness matters far more than likability. Voters didn't turn sour on President Ford in 1976; they just voted for change. Independent voters like President Obama, but the question is whether they think he has done a good job.

Indeed, Barack Obama is liked, according to polling.  When push comes to shove, though, when it's about voters' jobs, homes, and financial security, likability takes a distant second place.  Likeable employees are fired every day for nonperformance; they may get better severances, but off they go.  Voters have historically proven to be tough employers.           

National polling at this stage in the election game is interesting in that it tends to show Mr. Obama and Mitt Romney in a tight race.  If Mr. Obama were cooking with gas, he'd enjoy much wider margins nationally among likely voters.  Close indicates serious trouble ahead for Mr. Obama.

But national polls are chimeras, finally.  Presidents are elected state-by-state.  Come September, it's the state polls of likely voters that matters.  Reapportionment has shifted critical electoral votes to red states, favoring Romney.  Taking the states of Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida are keys to a Romney victory (presuming he retains McCain's states from 2008, as well he should). 

If voters are truly sour on the president, then other states like Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and New Mexico may well be in play after Labor Day.  Indiana is already expected to swing back into the GOP column. 

After Labor Day, if momentum breaks Romney's way, anticipate that he will carry independent and undecided voters in the aforementioned states.  Once the tide starts shifting against an incumbent, it tends to move hugely. 

Look at FDR's landslide victory in 1932 against the beleaguered Herbert Hoover.  Roosevelt ran a campaign highlighting Hoover's failures.  Contrary to the conventional wisdom, FDR didn't run on a bold progressive platform; a chief focus was on balancing the federal budget. 

In 1980, Ronald Reagan wrapped the misery index around Jimmy Carter's neck (that and his diffident handling of the Iranian hostage crisis).  Still, Carter led in the polls most of the way.  But in the autumn, when voters really started to concentrate on Carter's feeble record, and decided that Reagan was no wild-eyed radical, the dam broke and Carter was swept from office.                         

Successful presidents don't run "Campaigns of Distraction."  President Barack Obama, whose economic stimuli failed to stimulate the economy, but instead lined the pockets of powerful Democrat constituencies, needs to distract.  A president -- the very same Barack Obama -- whose federal credit card spending has dug the nation into a cavernous debt hole needs distractions. 

The president's signature legislative achievement, ObamaCare, never popular, now risks being overturned by the Supreme Court in late June.  If the Court overturns the individual mandate or the whole enchilada, the president and his fellow Democrats are relieved of the burden of having to defend so unworkable and freedom-depriving a program. 

What the president isn't off the hook on is explaining to voters why he wasted valuable time and resources pursuing a colossal dud-of-a-government-run health care program at the very time the economy was sinking.  Expect Mt. McKinley-sized distractions if the Supreme Court rules against Mr. Obama's health care scheme. 

This isn't to suggest complacency or smug self-assurance on the part of Republicans or conservatives... or Romney and his campaign.  History illuminates but doesn't dictate.  Run scared is the best advice for Mitt Romney.  To win in November, run scared and keep the focus relentlessly on Mr. Obama's magnificent failures.

Response to ccommenter:

JackKemp, you are correct.  Jerry Ford was appointed, not elected president.  A distinction I should have made in the article.  Nonetheless, he was the incumbent.  Thanks for the catch.