In December 1994, after Democrats had lost 54 House and eight Senate seats and with President Bill Clinton’s approval rating at 42 percent, I bet my wife $10 million that Clinton would be a one-term president.
In 1996, after he was re-elected, I wrote her a check. Fortunately, she didn’t try to cash it.
President Barack Obama’s 2010 House losses were worse, 63 seats, and his Senate losses, six, almost as bad. His approval rating is 45 percent.
This year, chastened by experience, I wouldn’t bet one way or another on his re-election.
This is in spite of the decisive prediction last month of two political scientists I respect a lot, the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato and Alan Abramowitz of Emory University, that “Barack Obama is down for the count, will have an early lame duck presidency and will be out of the White House in two years.”
They went on to say that “if President Obama is smart, he will try to salvage his term by announcing now that he will not undertake a hopeless campaign for reelection and instead form a bipartisan national unity government to try to hold the nation together until his successor, inevitably a Republican, is elected in November 2012.”
Their political logic is that Obama goes into the 2012 race with likely majorities in 17 states representing 200 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win, compared with 180 for the Republican nominee — but with little chance, based on 2010 results, to win many of the 12 swing states that account for the remaining 158 electoral votes.
No question, Obama faces an uphill climb. To get over 270, he needs to carry most or all of the following states he won in 2008 (with their likely electoral votes after re-apportionment): Michigan (16), Colorado (9), Nevada (6), New Mexico (5), Ohio (18), Pennsylvania (20) and Wisconsin (10).
Those states will total 84, so he can lose, say New Mexico and Colorado. Sabato and Abramowitz are probably right to figure he has little chance in other 2008 states he carried: Virginia (13), North Carolina (15), Iowa (6), Indiana (11) and Florida (29).
Sabato and Abramowitz granted that Clinton, too, was given up for dead and came back but claimed that “Obama lacks the political skills necessary to adjust to the new realities of divided government.
“Unlike Bill Clinton, Obama is an inflexible liberal who couldn’t find the center with both hands.”
Well, without predicting that Obama will win, I’d say that he certainly can. And, perhaps the key to it is that he should act like a national unity president without declaring himself a lame duck — which would automatically finish off any chance to get anything done in the next two years.
Obama is showing right now that he’s no “inflexible liberal,” but a highly pragmatic one who, as conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer noted, has already beaten Clinton’s record in moving to the center.
Since the elections, Obama has cut a deal with Republicans on taxes and unemployment compensation, met with business leaders he previously bashed, signed a trade deal with South Korea and signaled he plans to address debt reduction and tax reform next year.
He has ticked off liberals in his own party, but it’s unlikely that anybody on the left is going to run against him — particularly, one veteran Democratic guru told me, because it would mean trying to defeat the nation’s first African-American president.
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