Former adviser to President Bill Clinton, Paul Begala, in a May 2012 piece in the prominent liberal American news and opinion website, The Daily Beast, asked a simple question, “Can Obama beat back the anti-incumbent fervour?”
The question got its answer on Tuesday, November 6, as President Barack Obama registered victory in part through superb organisation that relied on micro-targeting select voting demographics. This is, undoubtedly, a success, given the pounding that incumbent administrations across the world are getting from distressed voters, most of whom are still feeling the effects of the 2008 global economic meltdown, ranked as the biggest in living memory.
Only a few have survived the onslaught, and those few are for the most part renowned for their more lithe political habits. Those who have survived include the doughty Vladimir Putin of Russia and the hard-line socialist Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. On the flip side, many have lost largely because of the challenging economic environment that has seen unemployment rise, incomes nosedive, and austerity become a reality, resulting in frustrated electorates.
Some of those ejected either by voters or their own parties include Hubert Ingraham, Bahamas; Nicolas Sarkozy, France; Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, Romania; Silvio Berlusconi, Italy; George Papandreou, Greece; José Luis Zapatero, Spain; Gordon Brown, Britain; Brian Cowan, Ireland; Jose Socrates, Portugal; and Ferenc Gyucsany, Hungary.
Earlier this year, hundreds of Britain’s conservative councillors lost their seats, prompting their leader and Prime Minister David Cameron to apologise and highlight that it was “against a difficult national backdrop”. Likewise, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, the Christian Democrats, got a shellacking in state elections held earlier this year.
And, of course, the high misery index in Jamaica, which undoubtedly helped to bring about the defeat of the JLP last year, contributed to the very, low voter turnout of just marginally above 50 per cent.
Mr Begala noted in his piece with a touch of hilarity “… Unless you can rig an election or cancel it, you’re in trouble as an incumbent. The dirty, little secret of campaigns is that there are usually just two messages. Either: stay the course, or it’s time for a change.”
After speaking with multiple political and media insiders, in addition to attending several political meetings headlined by President Barack Obama, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, former President Bill Clinton, rising star Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, and former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, as part of the State Department’s presidential election tour, there was no doubt that this was an unpredictable election. Rallies in battleground New Hampshire, for example, were dead equal in size.
It is nothing short of impressive, however, that despite the broad-ranging economic challenges in the United States, the relentless attacks from oiled Republican machinery, and a fair amount of voter apathy, Mr Obama pulled through. Jonathan Martin of Politico pointed out: “Battling a wheezing economy and a deeply motivated opposition, Obama still managed to retain much of his 2008 map because of the GOP’s deficiencies with the voters who are changing the political face of once conservative-leaning Virginia, Florida, Colorado, and Nevada.”
Those voters include African Americans, who came out handsomely for Obama; Hispanics, where Romney only managed to capture 27 per cent of their vote, far less than the 44 per cent George Bush took in 2004; and women and young voters, who went by majority for Obama.
It is even more surprising given the final Politico/George Washington University Battleground Tracking Poll taken on the Sunday and Monday just before the general election of 1,000 likely voters which showed Barack Obama and Mitt Romney dead even at 47 per cent. Both were also tied at 50 per cent in likeability by voters.
Interestingly, however, independents were breaking for Romney by 15 points, 47 per cent to 32 per cent. We cannot, though, discount the record-breaking 30 million-plus Americans who voted early (prior to election day), either in person or by mail, in 34 states and the District of Columbia. That represents a whopping 27 per cent of all then likely voters.
Republican officials on the ground were confident that they did ‘well’ with early voting, which is universally accepted to be a key strong point for the Obama on-the-ground machinery. Republicans countered that they had a traditional edge on election day. Obama’s on-the-ground machinery was exceptional to have overcome that very serious threat to his presidency, and ultimately, escape the global anti-incumbent trend.
OBAMA’S TOUGH JOB
Mr Obama has been through the ringer. Upon being inaugurated as president on January 20, 2009, he inherited a menu full of crises. For one, he inherited a country whose banks and investment companies spun off a multitrillion-dollar financial crisis that mushroomed into a global economic crisis. Two and a half million jobs vanished, crucial credit markets iced up, the stock market caved, foreclosures skyrocketed, the multibillion-dollar local automobile industry was on the verge of bankruptcy, and world-renowned financial institutions collapsed.
On the other hand, he inherited two multibillion-dollar wars that cost the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans and 6,000 Americans. Unlike the joint military mission in Afghanistan, the Iraq war is viewed by many to have been absolutely unnecessary. As the uniquely well-tempered president sought to systematically address these and many other major issues, he came up on a very hostile Republican congress bringing a quick end to any idealistic wish he had of a post-partisan America.
Despite that, however, Mr Obama managed to lead an economic recovery, albeit weak; put in place stronger laws and regulations (Dodd-Frank Wall Street and Consumer Protection Act) for banks so as to prevent a reoccurrence of abuses that created the financial crisis in the first place; revived the automobile industry; reformed student aid; led broad-scale reform to national health care and restored America’s image on the world stage through effective foreign policy, among other successes.
Prestigious American magazine The New Yorker, which endorsed Barack Obama in 2008 and again in 2012, noted in its endorsement piece last month: “… The re-election of a president who has been progressive, competent, rational, decent, and at times, visionary is a serious matter. The president has achieved a run of ambitious legislative, social and foreign-policy success that relieved a large measure of the human suffering and national shame inflicted by the Bush administration.”
ROMNEY AND THE ECONOMY
Despite the ringing endorsement of The New Yorker, a very liberal outfit, the Des Moines Register, a prominent newspaper in Iowa, well known for holding the first presidential caucuses every four years, wasn’t sold on Barack Obama for a second term. The Des Moines Register, incidentally, endorsed Obama in 2008 and every single Democratic presidential candidate before him going back to Jimmy Carter in 1976. The paper’s endorsement of Mr Romney for president last month was newsworthy to say the least.
As is the norm, the state of the economy is the front-row issue. The paper’s endorsement editorial noted, “Our discussion repeatedly circled back to the nation’s single most important challenge: pulling the economy out of the doldrums, getting more Americans back in the workforce in meaningful jobs with promising futures, and getting the federal government on a track to balance the budget in a bipartisan manner that the country demands.
“Which candidate could forge the compromises in Congress to achieve these goals? When the question is framed in those terms, Mitt Romney emerges the stronger candidate.”
As the campaigns wrapped up, Wisconsin, Nevada, North Carolina, Iowa, Virginia, Florida, New Hampshire, Colorado, Ohio, and Pennsylvania got immense attention. Local TV, radio, and other media sources were packed to capacity with political ads. But in the end, the “on-the-ground, get-out the vote operation” is viewed as the most crucial with a now reconfirmed general view that Obama’s operation was superior.
Newsweek special correspondent Michael Tomasky, in a lead November 5 piece titled ‘I Got This (?) Can Obama Close the Deal?’ stated, “… He (Obama) has two, three or four times the number of field offices Romney has – that is supposed to be the ace in the hole.”
A lesson in effective planning and superb organisation comes to the fore here. Ever since the devastating midterm election defeat of the Democrats in 2010, several key White House operatives were dispatched from their high-flying government jobs to develop and manage Obama’s re-election campaign with an intense focus on hammering down scientific and analytical organisation and management.
They clearly heeded the warnings early and got an incredible headstart. In Ohio, for example, Obama had 100 offices compared to Romney’s 30. In the end, Jim Messina is quoted as saying, “We have the math. They have the myth.”