So that was it. That was the day that changed everything. With that one failed debate, Barack Obama no longer became the undisputed winner, but instead the underdog. Two more debates followed and he failed to throw the punches and make the hits he most desperately needed. Despite previous gaffes, Governor Mitt Romney went from strength to strength to eventually take the White House and become President of the United States. The Democrats would not return to office for another eight years…
Many people would be forgiven for thinking that, following his lacklustre performance in the first Presidential debate, the history of the 44th President had already been written. But much is yet to be decided. A surprise fall in joblessness has revealed that Obama could still win the economic battle. A second debate better-fought and a third watched by 53.9 million well-fought has bolstered a supposedly failing President. This is not 1980; this is not Carter vs. Reagan, no matter how much supporters of the GOP would like it to be. But Barack Obama still stands on particularly precarious ground.
At the time of writing he is neck and neck with Romney; a spooky 47% of support for both the President and the Governor. 50% is said to be the magic number for getting re-elected: every post-World War II President with an approval rating of 50% has been returned to office. Only George W. Bush and Harry Truman, in 2004 and 1948 respectively, got re-elected with less than 50% approval ratings.
But all that this might show is what a part personalities play in US politics. Bush Jr. and Truman, both figures of character and a certain uniqueness in the eyes of America, found themselves retaining office with less than the magic 50% whilst the more vanilla Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush lost it.
Yet all three of these one-term Presidents had large-scale problems overshadowing their exits. Carter and Bush Sr. were facing down a recession whilst Ford was largely viewed as the inept caretaker installed by the recently departed Nixon after Watergate. Inevitably, the economy could make or break another potential one-termer.
Even the third debate, supposedly about foreign policy, swung every so often back to economics; Romney’s dealings with Chinese business, the President’s dealing with Chinese business, supporting American firms, where the money was coming from. Only the debate over Iran’s nuclear programme stood out as a pure foreign policy point, and even that was overshadowed by Romney’s espousal of American values and his talk of the need to retain the US’ economic supremacy. The war is most definitely still at home, not abroad.
However, in the media campaigns Obama has shown himself to be just as savvy this time round as the last time; particularly in advertising. Samuel L. Jackson’s involvement in the eyebrow-raising ‘Wake the F**k Up!’, a parody of Adam Mansbach’s children’s-book-for-grown-ups, ‘Go the F**k to Sleep’ showed that the President still had a few tricks up his sleeve, and some powerful support when it was needed.
The phrase ‘Romnesia’ is in the process of being coined and the sincere, considered video containing such high-profile Democrats as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Senator John Kerry, which attacks the Massachusetts Governor on his foreign policy and on his ‘shooting from the hip’ comments about attacks on the US Embassy in Libya has shown that the Obama media machine is still firing on all cylinders. In the age of Facebook, Twitter and a news source that is increasingly derived more so from the internet than the TV, especially by younger voters, the President seems to still hold all the cards in this department.
Key states have become battlegrounds for the incumbent and the opposition, and it is not yet certain who might win them. The often crucial state of Florida managed to back the winning party three out of three times since 2000 along with North Carolina; another state in question. But it remains to be seen where New Hampshire will decide to sit. It was Republican in 2000 when George W. Bush took office but plumped for Kerry in 2004 and remained Democrat in 2008. Ohio has also picked right since 2000, along with swing-states Virginia and Colorado.
Alongside Governor Romney’s claim that gas in Florida has gone up by over 300% since President Obama took office USA Today reported a story with the headline ‘Gas prices could soon drop 50 cents a gallon’, owing apparently to rising inventories and waning demand.
A week, Harold Wilson said, is a long time in politics. Two weeks, especially in this uncertain climate where the time-honoured phrase ‘The economy, stupid’ could well benefit from a slight rearrangement, could be too much for this President. History doesn’t lie; this will be no landslide, but, if we are to take history at face value, it’s more likely to be a Pyrrhic victory than a loss. Should Obama win a second term, the mid-terms will become crucial in deciding what he might be able to achieve.
But let us not forget, this is the man who four short years ago charmed a nation and people across the globe. Though such a feat will now be impossible to replicate, there is still yet a great deal to be decided. I look forward to being with you-in spirit at least-on Tuesday two weeks from now.
President Obama addressing a Joint Session of Congress – Pete Souza
George W. Bush and Barack Obama meet in the Oval Office – Eric Draper