Weak candidates in US presidential contest

By  Saad Hafiz:

After decisive primary victories, it appears certain that Mitt Romney
will be anointed as the Republican candidate for president at the
party’s convention in Tampa in August. Romney wrapped up the nomination
numerically when he won the voter-rich Texas primary a few weeks ago.
Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is a veteran
financial executive and a former governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to

For Romney, now begins the hard part as he faces multiple challenges as
he squares off against President Obama. Romney’s biggest challenge is
that he is up against an incumbent president who faced no primary
challenge and has been actively preparing for the general election for
more than a year. Obama brings to the table all the fundraising,
organisation, and media attention that naturally flow to a sitting
president. The latest campaign finance figures underscore the financial
distance between them at the unofficial start of this contest. Obama has
$ 115 million on hand, Romney has $ 9.2 million.

Earlier in his presidency, it seemed that President Obama would end up a
one-term democratic President like Jimmy Carter, and unlike Bill
Clinton. Republicans successfully painted Obama to be a radical liberal,
a tax-and-spend leftwing Democrat, or something on the edge of being a
Socialist, who after winning a sizeable mandate in 2008 was going to
transform America into a European-style social democracy. Obama’s
opponents led by the Tea Party Movement (TPM) had delivered a telling
counterpunch to his electoral mandate in the mid-term elections in
November 2010. Obama’s political fortunes seem to have improved
recently, as the old adage that ‘a week is a lifetime in politics’ has
proved time and again.

It is hard to get excited about Romney or the Republican ticket, a
Florida lawyer who described himself as a ‘moderate Republican’ said to
this writer recently. “Republicans and their Presidential choice are
struggling with the baggage of the dismal Bush years and may not be able
to endure a close scrutiny of their past failed record or platform –
particularly as it relates to poor fiscal management, costly foreign
wars, and the environment.

Romney at times has been a gaffe-prone and stiff campaigner during the
primaries. He could not win a Southern state and took longer than
expected to defeat poorly funded, second-tier challengers. Romney also
faces a gaping deficit against Obama on likeability and in relating to
the electorate, which is facing serious economic challenges. His image
is that of an awkward out-of-touch rich man who has been inconsistent on
the issues. Romney needs to do a much better job of connecting with the
‘frustrated middle class’ and especially America’s decisive political
middle. At the same time, he has to avoid looking insincere.

Despite his weaknesses, Romney begins the general election season
polling close to Obama, who is hobbled by a weak economy. ‘Anybody but
Obama’ will be the Republican battle cry, which Romney hopes will rally
the Republican base and independent voters behind him. Also, Romney’s
devout Mormon faith, which is akin to being an Ahmadi, which hindered
his ability to lock up the Republican nomination early, as many
evangelical voters – a key part of the Republican base – were unwilling
to vote for him, may not matter as much in the general elections as it
did in the primaries. Romney is also considered pragmatic, which makes
him more electable rather than ideological, which has always been a
kiss-of-death for an American presidential candidate of either party.

Typically, an election with an incumbent president on the ballot is a
referendum on him. President Obama’s biggest failing has been his
inability to deliver tangible economic progress to middle class
Americans, which would have set him apart from the regression of the
dismal Bush years. While Obama inherited America’s present economic
morass from Bush, he has not pursued vastly different economic policies
to address the chronic high unemployment, low wage growth, and the
anemic economy. This alone may deny him a second term in office.

President Obama, who is running on a weak economic recovery, is trying
to turn the election into a choice. “We have made progress, but the
nation still has problems, and they’ll get much worse under the other
guy (Romney),” is essentially what Obama has been saying recently.

With all voters, the economy is ultimately the most important issue. And
if unemployment begins to improve and gasoline prices get lower by
November, Obama will certainly be able to solidify his support within
the Democratic base and also attract independent voters in swing states
such as Florida and Ohio, which have generally proved decisive in close
elections in the past. What is certain is that the 2012 US presidential
race is shaping up to be one of the most bitter and polarising contests
ever, a challenge for whichever candidate wins the presidency in
November to unite the nation thereafter.

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