What are President Obama’s chances of being re-elected in 2012? Does Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, have a realistic shot at the Republican presidential nomination? Who do you think will become the GOP standard bearer next year?
Some 400 persons attending the Hector San Miguel awards luncheon last week got answers to all of those questions and a whole lot more from a Washington, D.C., political insider. Charlie Cook, a Louisiana native who is author of the respected Cook Political Report, gave his listeners a quick and entertaining lesson on how things work in the nation’s capital. And he is recognized as one of the best political analysts in the country.
Like most presidents before him, Obama’s future at the White House will depend on the state of the nation’s economy at the time of the Nov. 6, 2012, election, Cook said. He added that one of the best barometers of how things are going is the nation’s unemployment rate.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the November numbers Friday morning, and said the unemployment rate dropped sharply to 8.6 percent, which is down from 9 percent in October and good news for Obama. However, the bureau also noted that 13.3 million Americans are still out of work.
One of the reasons for the percentage drop was the fact that 315,000 people had given up looking for work. Add part-time workers seeking full-time work to those who have quit trying and the realistic unemployment rate is hanging around 16 percent.
Obama defenders would argue that the president inherited a horrible economy from former President George W. Bush, and that’s true. However, Cook said time has erased Obama’s advantage there and “for better or worse, he owns the economy.” He said the unemployment rate has been 9 percent or worse for 28 of the last 30 months.
Cook said Democrats controlled both the House and Senate when Obama took office in 2008, which gave them an opportunity to improve economic conditions. They lost the House in 2010, and Cook said there is a good chance Democrats will lose the Senate in 2012.
Economic forecasts don’t look good for Obama either, Cook said. Top economists believe unemployment will be 9 percent throughout most of 2012, he said.
Cook said the ultimate decision from Republicans about who will be their nominee also plays into the picture. If an ultra-conservative wins the nomination, that would give Obama an edge, he said.
The GOP search for an acceptable candidate has been much like the popular TV show “American Idol,” Cook said. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., was an early frontrunner, but Cook said she had trouble with the facts. Texas Gov. Rick Perry had the potential to raise money but failed to get into the race early enough, he said.
Herman Cain was the next to make it to the top of the polls, but Cook said there wasn’t much substance there. Cain understood marketing as evidenced by the popularity of his 9-9-9 tax proposal. However, people find it easier to remember Subway’s $5 foot-longs, Cook said. And then came the accusations of sexual improprieties that have further hampered Cain’s chances.
Now, there’s Gingrich. Cook said the former speaker is an intellectual who shows the passion that is needed to pursue the nomination. He said Gingrich also knows how to build a campaign, even though his effort nearly folded in the early days.
Unfortunately for Gingrich, he has some character issues. Cook said the candidate’s problems remind him of the old radio show, “Fibber McGee and Molly.” Fibber had a famous overstuffed closet, and when the door was opened the contents would fall out with a bang. Cook said he can envision Gingrich’s closet being filled with personal baggage that tumbles out when it’s opened.
Cook said in a recent column that he writes for the National Journal that Cain has the passion, Perry has the money and Gingrich has the brains and intellectual ability. But he said it would take a candidate with all three qualities to beat Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, and that isn’t likely to happen.
Romney is the odds-on favorite to win the nomination, Cook said, even though he thinks Gingrich’s comeback can’t be totally ignored. Romney’s biggest asset, according to Cook, is his potential for beating Obama.
“The one thing that unifies conservatives is the desire to prevent President Obama’s re-election,” Cook said.
A lot can change between now and next November, of course. And the new year will bring presidential primaries that will give voters an opportunity to become their own political analysts when they state their preferences. For now, however, I’m sticking with Cook’s forecast of political things to come.