Washington — President Barack Obama faces a long re-election campaign having all but given up on the economy rebounding in any meaningful way before November 2012. His own budget office predicts unemployment will stay at about 9 percent, a frightening number for any president seeking a second term.
Obama’s prospects aren’t entirely grim, however. The GOP, heavily influenced by the tea party, may nominate someone so deeply flawed or right-leaning that, Democrats hope, Obama can persuade Americans to give him a second chance rather than risk the alternative.
Democrats say the man who ran on hope and change in 2008 will have to claw his way toward a second term with a sharply negative campaign.
The strengths and weaknesses of his prospects seem clear.
Next year’s unemployment rate is likely to be the highest in a presidential election since 1940. But the leading Republican contenders have denigrated Social Security, switched positions on critical issues and done other things that might make them ripe targets for Obama’s well-funded campaign.
Democratic strategist Doug Hattaway says GOP candidates, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, may turn off independent voters with their embrace of tea party stands on taxes, spending and program cuts.
Obama “should lump them all together and make them answer for their slash-and-burn politics,” said Hattaway, a former top aide to Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama’s rival for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
To do so, Hattaway said, Obama must link the candidates to congressional Republicans, blamed by Democrats for the nation’s stalled job growth and recent downgrade of U.S. creditworthiness.
Making the connection might not prove easy.
Obama’s potential challengers have avoided getting dragged into details of the bitter Capitol Hill fights over deficit spending. At least for now, they can lob criticisms at the president while offering few specific, measurable alternatives.
“President Obama oversaw an economy that created zero jobs last month, and that is unacceptable,” Romney said Friday.
But the influence of the tea party and other conservative groups may give Obama some openings, by pushing the GOP field so far to the right that the candidates risk alienating vital independent voters.