As I write this, Obama is polling roughly even with a “generic” Republican candidate. As recently as 2 weeks ago, the conventional wisdom was that his chances for reelection were slim and fading. Some slightly better economic news and (I think) a growing distaste for Republican intransigence in Congress has fueled a small but growing favor for Obama.
With that said, I predict a decent-size victory for Obama, with a 2M-3M vote edge in the poopular vote and a more narrow Electoral victory (it’s possible he could even end up losing the Electoral and winning the popular vote a la Mr. Gore, but I do not think that the opposite will happen – the GOP definitely has an Electoral advantage).
My three reasons for the victory:
1) Foreign policy success. I blogged about this factor before as being a non-issue since most people don’t vote based on this factor, but I think his success here will win some moderates and independents over – his credibility is pretty high here, and none of this GOP rivals can come close on real experience. The GOP can Monday-morning QB if they want, but when the rubber meets the road, Obama can take his pick of the last 4 years of foreign policy successes.
2) “Adult in the room” factor. Throughout all of the myriad debt-ceiling and budget negotiations with Congress, Obama has maintained the position of being the “adult in the room.” It has not won him any favor with his own party, but independents will respond to it. If he gets his jobs bill and a major (3-4T) debt reduction, it’s a political victory for him – since the GOP hates the idea of him getting credit for this, they probably won’t let it happen in the House. As a campaign move, though, Obama keeps both these issue to campaign on – vote for me to get this jobs bill (the details of which poll at around 2/3 in favor). Vote for me to get a compromise debt reduction deal.
3) None of the GOP candidates can beat him. I’ll deal with the GOP candidates in two groups – not-Mitt Romney and Mitt Romney.
Not Mitt Romney: As I’ve said before, I consider myself an independent. I do not see myself as really being able to vote for any of the non-Romney GOP candidates. I would be surprised to find out that other independents disgaree with me – the Tea Party has been succesful, but I do not think the ideas have moved to the mainstram yet, and you can’t win a national election without some level of moderate support.
Cain’s 9-9-9 will kill him in a general, Perry’s debate gaffes will not instill confidence in his ability to have his finger on any large red buttons, and Gingrich has too much negative baggage. In a debate, Gingrich is the only one who can really challenge Obama in both substance and style, but I think he will come off as arrogant to many voters – I think both ’96 and ’04 are good models for this election. In both debates, the guy you’d “want to have a beer with” pulled it out – and Gingrich looks a lot like Kerry and Dole in that respect.
Mitt Romney: As my prediction #1 lays out, I think Romney will the nominee. He can definitely give Obama a run for his money to claim moderates. While he doesn’t have any foreign policy experience per se, his persona is that of someone competent and measured – voters don’t look for foreign policy credentials, but I think do a gut-check to see if they think a candidate can handle the “3am phone call”.
That said, I just don’t believe that Romney can galvanize the Right in the way he needs to win. It all boils down to two issues: (1) There is a small percentage of the Conservative base thatwill not vote for a “non-Christian.” And make no mistake about it -(2) among many evangelicals, Mormonism is not Christianity. (See bottom for my CYA)
The group that would vote that way is probably not very large in absolute terms – probably only 5-10% of the GOP. The problem is that those votes come entirely out of Romney’s base – you can afford to lose 100% of your opponent’s base and 49% of the moderate middle, but every vote lost from your base is one you’ll never get back. Put it into numbers – 69M people voted for the Democrat (Obama in 2008). 59M people voted for the Republican. Assume that the 10M voter margin is “in play.” In order to win, the GOP needs to convince 5M+1 people that voted for Obama to vote for Romney instead. If 5% of the base WON’T VOTE for a Mormon candidate, it puts that number up to 8M people out of only 10M “in-play voters.”
I’m not sure Romney can even pull off the 5M+1, and 8M out 10M is almost certainly a bridge too far. I assumed in my prediction #2 that Romney will have a VP that will shore up his credibility among evangelicals, but I think a lot will balk at voting for a Mormon when the rubber meets the road. If that happens, expect it to come along with deceptive polling – polls will have those people voting for Romney, and exit polls might even make the race look closer than it is, but the final tally will have Romney coming up short.
Obligatory CYA: First, I’m not arguing whether or not Mormons are “true Christians” or not – just asserting that some people believe quite certainly that they are not, and will vote (or, not vote) accordingly. Second, I’m not saying that statement (2) is neccesarily a bigoted view of Mormonism – most Evangelicals would happily admit that Mormons are in general good citizens and good people. That said, the core of evangelical Christianity is that being a good person is not enough to be saved – they believe that we are all sinners and that only faith in Jesus (as revealed in the Bible) makes you a Christian. Evangelicals believe that the Bible is the complete and literal Word of God – and anyone who doesn’t believe that isn’t a Christian. It’s not meant to be mean or petty – it’s just how they define their religion. Believing in a later revelation that puts Jesus in North American is not part of that Word, and so can’t be part of that religion (or so the argument goes).