Will A Better But Not Yet Good Economy Safe Obama?

Democrats hope in a tight election race that marginal improvements in the economy will persuade voters to back their man over Republican nominee Mitt Romney. With the exception of the parties clashing over Libya, and whether the administration was culpable by neglect in the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans during the September storming of the American consulate in Benghazi, the election has been dominated by the state of the US economy.

The culture wars of the past have dimmed in significance this year. Even the divisive issues of abortion and immigration have faded. With Obama’s fate likely tied to how voters judge his record in restoring economic growth, Democrats have been burnishing any good economic news coming their way. Read my take on this in the Daily Mail.

Gay Advocacy Needs Restraining Too

Although saying that about the GOP needing to restrain the rhetoric of some of its activists on the same-sex marriage issue (see post below), gay advocates would be wise to counsel their supporters, too, if they have not already done so, to restrain their rhetoric.

Groups such as the New Civil Rights Movement lump together all those who oppose same-sex marriage, hardly the way to win friends and influence people. You don’t have to be anti-gay or hate gays to disagree with same-sex marriage.

For some the word “marriage” is what is problematic rather than the recognition of monogamous civil union between same-sex couples, for example.

Obviously, neither of the parties nor the candidates can or should be held responsible for the bile individual activists on either side of this issue are hurling. But, of course, they will, and with possible electoral consequences.

 

Gay Marriage More Dangerous For Romney

The same-sex marriage issue is going to get complicated for both presidential candidates but Barack Obama is likely to benefit from a more consistent message than Mitt Romney has so far been able to craft.

The President’s position is reasonably simple and can be summed up in a sentence: He is now for same-sex marriages but believes it is up to the states to decide. Romney appears to be attempting to triangulate the issue in a bid both to avoid offending sensitivities that run through the GOP coalition and to steer clear of distracting from his economic pitch to independents.

At first glance, the former Massachusetts governor appears consistent on the issue: he is against same-sex marriage. But then his position starts losing clarity when he’s pressed.

First, he risks irritating states-rights Republicans by his readiness to endorse a federal amendment banning same-sex marriages, while at the same time offending libertarians suspicious of government intrusion in private life.

Second, while opposing same-sex marriage he says he is not against gays adopting children, a position that offends Christian and social conservatives and undermines a key argument that some opponents of gay marriage trot out – namely, that marriage is there for raising children.

And third, Romney opposes not just same-sex marriage but civil unions while at the same time agreeing that same-sex couples should be afforded benefits that heterosexual married couples enjoy, such as being able to pass on pension rights and employee-based health-care coverage.

Romney’s convoluted position is far more demanding to make – and complexity is a real liability in the cut and thrust of election campaigns.

Since Obama’s declaration this week that he has “evolved” to a position of being for same-sex marriage – a strange evolution indeed in that he had been “for” years ago and then back-tracked and has now reversed again – Romney for the first time since he launched his campaign was presented the opportunity of benefiting from energized Christian conservative support. But his contortions on the issue risk sapping much of that energy.

There are risks, too, for President Obama. The majority of states – 30 – have passed gay-marriage bans and his position remains unpopular with significant numbers of black and Latino Democrats. But Romney clearly faces greater challenges. A key one will be to restrain the GOP’s conservative base from going over-the-top in the run-up to the election in lambasting Obama’s position.

When Obama came out with his “evolved” position, his aides were at pains to talk up the bravery of his declaration. And in some ways it is. But it is hard to believe that the President and his advisers refrained from making some political calculations of how this could all play out. As Steve Schmidt, a McCain strategist in 2008, has noted: Obama’s announcement has spotlighted some very tricky divisions within the GOP coalition.

Far From Over

Interesting analysis in Politico today suggesting that the House race is far from over. The suggestion is that everything has to break right for the GOP to secure the lower chamber. The Democrats still have a chance but it will depend on three factors, I suspect:

* Can the White House reframe the mid-terms into not just being a referendum on Obama and a more even contest on what the GOP is or is not offering?

* While Tea Party enthusiasm can drive conservatives to the polls will it also turn off independent and swing voters and drive them into the hands of the Democrats?

* Will Tea Party involvement energize the Democrat base?

Boehner the Ogre?

What on earth are White House strategists thinking by seizing on the GOP”s House leader, John Boehner, as the Republican scary pin-up to attack ahead of the mid-term elections? The Republican Minority Leader may not be to everybody’s taste but he is “a hard man to demonize,” as The Economist has pointed out. He is a mild-mannered country-club-type Republican, who even back in the mid nineties when he aligned with Newt Gingrich wasn’t one of the trusted members of the praetorian guard.

Convivial and clubby, Boehner is sociable with Democrats in the Capitol Hill watering holes. His style is not dissimilar from Bob Dole’s, another Midwestern conservative able and willing when circumstances demanded to make deals across party lines. In some ways Boehner comes across as your dad’s genial brother, ready with a crack and the offer of a drink and a cigarette. He’s also not that well-known nationally. So painting him as the ogre moderate Republicans, centrists or independents should flee from at the polling booths is unlikely to secure the Democrats much advantage.

And if the the GOP does capture the House, as opinion polls suggest consistently the party will, then Boehner is someone the Whte House will need to be able to negoiate with – that is if there isn’t going to be another nineties-style government shut-down.

Targeting Boehner strikes me as another major misstep by the White House when it comes to strategy and thinking things through. Strategic and communication errors have marked this administration almost from the start. In the first summer of this administration, President Obama and senior aides neglected to sell the health-care reform – something that still hasn’t been sold to most Americans.

From the beginning they failed to focus on the economy. No FDR-style “fireside chats,” no trying to manage expectations and to explain that recovery from the financial crisis would not be speedy (as is the case always from recessions caused by financial crashes), no preparing Americans for the long haul and no cheering of them up.

Only belatedly has the President and his senior aides started to talk about the economy. Too little and too late.

So who should the White House target? Surely, they should be highlighting the civil war underway in the GOP, pitching Republican moderates and a new generation of Tea Party-aligned ideologues. Boehner is a small-government conservative while a lot of the likely GOP freshmen are more “no-government” and this, from a strategic point-of-view, is surely what the White House should be emphasizing. Earlier this week, I argued that the GOP primary results were a godsend for the White House and Democrats but they seem to want to throw away what the Republicans give them.