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US election campaign arrives

By Justin Barbour - posted Monday, 7 May 2012

The General election campaign has finally started with the Republican National Committee throwing its resources behind the presumptive nominee, Mitt Romney. The two remaining candidates, Speaker Gingrich and Representative Paul, don't really have a chance at this point, and are probably only staying in the race to make a point about where they think the party should be. Their ideological differences with Romney are a bit irrelevant now, however, and it is now time to start focusing on Romney versus Obama in the November election.

President Obama holds the advantage of incumbency, with the power and prestige that comes with the White House, but that is somewhat mitigated by the economy which is not improving as fast as many Americans were perhaps expecting. This problem is particularly prevalent in key swing states like Colorado, which still has an unemployment rate of 12.3%. This will be a problem heading into the election as people seek alternatives to an approach that isn't working as well as they might have been expecting; however, the argument from the Obama Administration that the economy is improving will have some positive effect given that many Americans continue to blame the former Administration for the economic mess, and are not willing to heap the blame on the shoulders of President Obama – yet. This would be strengthened by a campaign that focuses on the fact that the present Congress, since the 2010 Tea Party surge, has been among the most negative and obstructionist ever.

Running against the Congress has its inherent risks; however, it might pay off given that many incumbents were elected on the back of Tea Party enthusiasm, which has now mostly dissipated. President Obama could easily argue that the G.O.P.-controlled House has repeatedly refused to back his programs, or suggest reasonable alternatives – it could be perceived as needless obstructionism. It would help the President with his "it is getting better" narrative while providing a convincing explanation as to why it is not happening faster. More broadly, this would help with maintaining control of the Senate, and winning back some seats – perhaps even a majority – in the House.


On specific economic issues, the Ryan budget proposal should help the Obama campaign in key states like Florida, which has an aging population. Some of its proposals include privatising Medicare and Social Security and cutting taxes for the rich (including completely eliminating capital gains tax). This plan has been fully endorsed by Mitt Romney. While Americans want the economy fixed, there is some skepticism about whether the best way to achieve that is through tax cuts for the wealthy that are paid for by cutting benefits to the poor and elderly. Speaker Gingrich was right to call this plan "Right-wing social engineering," until he was rebuked by senior Republican leaders, and changed his mind. President Obama is clearly not afraid of a fight on this issue by providing a clear alternative in taxation policy; instead of cutting taxes, he proposed the Buffet Rule, which demands that persons earning over a million dollars per year pay the same rate in taxation as their secretary (35%). This is palatable to the American people despite accusations of "class warfare" from those who advocate the Ryan budget proposal.

On social issues, the Republicans are in dangerous territory. The social conservative vote can go only so far, and with G.O.P.-controlled State Houses pushing through unimaginably Right-wing social programs on issues like abortion and immigration, the President will be helped with key demographics like women and Hispanics. Romney will have to choose whether he wants to run away from these proposals, which will damage his already low credibility with the Christian-Right, or embrace them, which will damage his credibility with the aforementioned key demographics. It is a catch 22 that can only benefit the President.

President Obama is of course vulnerable in this election cycle. An economy that still isn't doing as well as some might hope, and some policies that will be ardently opposed by some sections of the community, like "Obamacare," do not bode well for a sitting President. The idea that it will somehow be an easy run for him is misguided, particularly at this stage of the campaign. But he does have his strengths, most notably the fact that many Americans continue to blame the former Administration for much of the economic mess, many of whom also resent the Republican-controlled House for obstructing several key pieces of legislation that were designed to do things which ought to attract bipartisan support, like putting firefighters back to work or improving infrastructure. Whether the electorate continues to hold these views over the coming months is a matter that remains to be seen, but for now, on several key issues, the President holds a distinct advantage, even with his other vulnerabilities.'

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This article was first published on Justin's blog.

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About the Author

Justin Barbour is a business graduate of Griffith University, and law student at La Trobe University, with an interest in progressive politics and the trade union movement. He is a former union official.

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