Why 2012 presidential election will be harder for Obama
As the incumbent, Obama is burdened by three wars and the economy. He's taking nothing for granted for the 2012 presidential election, and is planning victory scenarios that don’t involve taking every state he won last time.
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It's no accident that President Obama faced questions like these from voters last week, and it's no accident that the town-hall meeting was held at a community college in Virginia. The stated purpose of the gathering was to promote Mr. Obama's message on deficit reduction ahead of battles with congressional Republicans. But 18 months before Election Day 2012, Obama is also well into campaign mode in his quest for reelection.
Virginia is a key battleground state, and Northern Virginia Community College is full of young people – a cohort he will need to turn out for him again. It also has plenty of not-so-young students – people training for second careers and striving to maintain or earn a spot in the middle class.
Obama's other town-hall meetings during the week of April 18, in California and Nevada, also smacked of campaigning. Nevada is another swing state. And while California is solidly Democratic, it's a gold mine for fundraisers; he did six during this trip alone. In Silicon Valley, Obama visited Facebook headquarters and did an online town-hall meeting – more outreach to the under-30 crowd.
The Obama reelection campaign, formally declared on April 4, is built on an assumption that there are no sure things in politics. It is raising money fast and furiously, with a goal of surpassing the 2008 "take" of $750 million. Team Obama is also not counting on a weak Republican nominee, despite the slow formation of the field and early support for "birther" billionaire Donald Trump. And analysts don't see any lingering specialness in Obama's identity as the first black president.
"He's like any incumbent president running for reelection," says Stephen Wayne, a political scientist at Georgetown University in Washington. "The vote is going to be thumbs up or thumbs down on the administration, and that will depend on the state of the economy."
Unemployment remains high at 8.8 percent, home foreclosures are expected to continue at a high rate this year, $4-a-gallon gas has bruised consumer confidence, and voters are increasingly worried about deficits and the national debt. Overseas, the nation is embroiled in multiple unpopular wars. Bottom line: Obama may well find 2012 a tougher race than 2008, when he beat John McCain 53 percent to 46 percent. His 2008 electoral vote total was even more lopsided, at 365 to 173.
Going forward, subtract six electoral votes from Obama's total right off the top, because of population declines in states he won in 2008. This means he's down to 359 electoral votes if he wins all the same states again; 270 are needed for victory.
Obama can afford to lose some tossup states (see map), but not too many. His campaign has put out word that it is eyeing Texas, Arizona, and Georgia, according to Politico, owing to those states' growing Hispanic populations – a demographic that Obama won two-thirds of in 2008. But that is probably an attempt to get the Republicans to play defense and spend money on their home turf.