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.

Celebrity Outshines Country

Tripoli

When asked where I am from, I now just say, “Chelsea” and then there’s instant understanding. For a Spurs fan this is irritating but one has to do what works. When Libyans on the street ask me where my wife is from (of course they ask me not her and quite right, too) I say, “Obama”. Again, this gets the job done much better than saying U.S. or America. Cameron, Nick Clegg, Mitt Romney, Santorum — absolutely no recognition. Beyonce works, though.

What a strange world we live in now: celebrities and sports teams have greater name recognition than countries.

I am thinking of trying Simon Cowell next.

Bush/Romney: Bring It On!

I would have thought Obama advisers would be saying, “bring it on” to the thought of George W. Bush campaigning actively for Mitt Romney. They should be so lucky.

As Karen Tumulty reports in the Washington Post this morning, Obama’s predecessor in the Oval Office has offered his endorsement of Romney but in as low a key way as possible. On Tuesday an ABC crew caught up with the former President as he was entering an elevator and elicited from Bush the comment, “I’m for Romney.”

He has no plans apparently to get out there on the campaign. His absence will be helpful to the GOP candidate. A presence on the hustings would certainly complicate things for Romney.

In a February poll by Quinnipiac University, 51 percent of respondents said Bush is more to blame for the horrible economy than Obama, while only 35 percent said Obama is.

 

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.

Mr Flip and Mr Flop

Aren’t they both playing a game of bait and switch? Yesterday, GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney, who would now seem to have a lock on the Republican nomination following his primary wins this week, accused President Barack Obama of running a “hide-and-seek campaign.

And the Republican has some justification for hurling the accusation in the light of Obama’s side remark at a meeting in South Korea on March 25 to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev about the issue of missile defense.  He urged Medvedev to tell incoming Russian President Vladimir Putin not to press him on the issue, saying that after the election he would have more room for maneuver.

“On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved, but it’s important for him to give me space,” Obama was heard to remark by a Russian TV crew in an unguarded moment.

Obama added: “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.”

Romney picked up on the remark last week, claiming, “President Obama signaled that he’s going to cave to Russia on missile defense, but the American people have a right to know where else he plans to be ‘flexible’ in a second term.”

And speaking before newspaper editors conference in Washington DC yesterday he pushed the theme again, saying Obama will “state his true position only after the election is over.”

Romney’s attack would seem to be justified but arguably here we have a case of double standards, after all the former Massachusetts governor is no stranger to flip and flop or indulging in Etch a Sketch campaigning himself.

Almost Enthusiastic

This quote in the Washington Post from a Republican voter in Illinois about Mitt Romney about sums it up. “I’m almost enthusiastic.”

Romney’s Illinois win last night  confirms that he’ll get the GOP nomination but Rick Santorum is unlikely to drop out, even though his campaign’s most optimistic projection has him short by nearly 150 of the necessary delegates to secure the nomination himself.

So, Romney’s less than triumphant progress to the convention is likely to have some more setbacks on the way, courtesy of Santorum wins.

 

Beware the Buyer

Private equity group Carlyle is pressing ahead with plans for a stock market float next month but analysts are divided over whether investors should approach with caution or confidence.

One of the world’s largest buyout firms, Carlyle has been working hard to convince Wall Street analysts that investors shouldn’t be wary of a firm that has been traditionally highly secretive even by the standards of the industry.

Suspicion of private equity firms has never been higher. Mitt Romney, former head of Bain Capital, a Boston-based private equity firm, has had a torrid time on the presidential election trail defending himself from ‘vulture capitalism’ charges by rivals for the Republican nomination.

Analysts point to what happened in the wake of Blackstone’s IPO, the first by a private equity firm, as a cautionary tale for anyone thinking of buying Carlyle shares.

Blackstone’s share price fell below its initial $31 within a week, never rebounded and is hovering around $14 a share. The offering though made a lot of money for Blackstone founders – in the case of Stephen Schwarzman, $684million in cash.

Read my full report on the Carlyle IPO in the Daily Mail.

 

GOP and Wealth: The Party of Main Street, Not Wall Street

Posting my latest City Focus piece published by the Daily Mail yesterday. It examines Mitt Romney’s private-equity past – did he destroy jobs or create them? And it looks at the attacks by his rivals, notably Newt Gingrich, on his time as head of Bain. It suggests also that his economy policy is vague in some key areas — e.g. how he would pay for income taxes.