A tough May so far for the Obama campaign.
Click here to listen to the broadcast of Decision 2012 with Paul Gleiser, Monday, May 14, 2012.
As we reported last week, on May 4 the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the April 2012 unemployment numbers and they were pretty dismal. While the official unemployment rate ticked down fractionally to 8.1 percent, that small glimmer of good news failed to conceal the fact that the economy added only 115,000 jobs in April, the lowest jobs gain in six months. Worse, but for a third of a million people giving up on getting a job and leaving the labor force, the official unemployment rate would have gone up by as much as three tenths of a point. The April jobs report, released in May, revealed that the labor force participation rate stands at its lowest ebb in over 30 years.
There is little chance that the job numbers will improve significantly between now and August, when the prevailing economic conditions tend to get baked into presidential electoral pies. The jobs report of May 4 makes it clear that for the third year in a row, there will be no “recovery summer” at a time when Obama needs economic recovery more than at any time in his political career.
The next day, on May 5, Obama officially kicked off his re-election campaign at a rally in a basketball arena in Columbus, Ohio. But unlike Obama the 2008 candidate that drew 200,000 people in Berlin, Germany and filled arenas past overflowing all across the United States, Obama the 2012 candidate could not fill the 19,000 seats of that basketball arena in Ohio. The electric enthusiasm that helped propel Obama from hitherto unknown to keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention to freshman senator from Illinois and thence to the White House, was noticeably absent on Friday, May 5 in Ohio, a state that Obama cannot lose if he hopes to retain the presidency.
The following Tuesday the longest-serving Republican in the Senate learned that his senate career is coming to an end. A woefully unprepared Richard Lugar of Indiana lost his bid to be the Republican nominee for a seventh senate term to tea party challenger Richard Mourdock, the current state treasurer. Democrats and some Republicans decried Lugar’s defeat as a sign that the Republican party is too far right and unable to appeal to the centrist independents. Time will tell if this assessment is correct.
But Lugar’s defeat by a tea party challenger can’t help but bring to mind the tea party-propelled midterm election“ shellacking,” as Obama characterized it, of 2010. Written off by many Republicans and Democrats, the tea party again had a profound and, to many, an unexpected impact on an important election.
It’s still Obama and Romney neck and neck in the polls, both national and in battleground states like Florida. Many smart and experienced observers still maintain that Obama will win a majority of the Electoral College on November 6.
Still, this confluence of three events in a matter of a few days should be disconcerting to Team Obama. Obama is not the fresh wind of Hope and Change that he was in 2008. In 2012, Obama is the incumbent.
Weak jobs numbers are never good for an incumbent and the job numbers are very weak and unlikely to strengthen. If history were a perfect guide (which it is not) this fact alone would suggest that Obama cannot win re-election.
The Obama candidacy enthusiasm swoon evidenced in Ohio suggests that the first-time voters and college kids that turned out in huge numbers in 2008 may not turn out in such numbers in 2012. Enthusiasm is key to getting out the vote and enthusiasm for Obama is flagging against the backdrop of poor economic figures and a growing cohort of workers so discouraged that they have given up on looking for a job.
Meanwhile the tea party that was credited (often grudgingly) with making the critical difference in the historic 2010 midterm election, the tea party that has since been more or less written off by Democrats and a significant number of Republicans, showed in Indiana that it is very much alive and well and capable of getting conservatives to the polls. When this is placed alongside the tepid turnout for Obama’s kickoff rally in Ohio, it is cause to wonder if the polls showing Obama tied or holding a narrow lead are overstated.