Another day, another Republican primary. Three of them, actually: Washington, DC, Maryland, and Wisconsin. Mitt Romney is counting on running the table today and ending Rick Santorum’s final hopes. At this point he’s generally expected to do so, meaning that Romney as nominee is now all but a foregone conclusion.
Things don’t look so great in a Romney/Obama race right now, though. Obama is not only tied or slightly ahead in a number of national head-to-head polls, but–more importantly–has vital leads in important battleground states as well.
All of this means something, but not everything at this point. It means that right now neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney is hated or loved by the vast majority of the American people. It means that both men have been occupied with other matters (governing the nation and competing in the GOP primaries) until now. The 2012 presidential campaign, in other words, has not really started yet.
That changes, I think, in the next month or so. With victories today, Romney will be switching the bulk of his energies to developing a Fall strategy. Obama has had a lot of time to think about how he’ll run, and it may be that yesterday’s salvo against the Supreme Court may be a hint of his strategy.
It is extremely early in this process, however. The major issues at work in the nation today–some of which may look very different in November–may have a greater part in determining the eventual victor than any pre-set strategy. Consider the following:
- The Healthcare Debate: It is in the hands of the Supreme Court right now, but only until June. If they uphold the law and its mandate, the Obama administration will be relieved but forced to endure a withering Republican campaign aimed at repeal. If, however, the Supreme Court jettisons the law all bets are off. The Republicans will be enthused, but will not be able to run as strongly on the issue. Obama seems set to run against the Court if needed, but if he does this the GOP may be even more emboldened to stop him.
- The Economy: It seems to slowly be getting better…but it still isn’t great. If the pace of the improvement stalls or remains slow the advantage may well lean towards the GOP and its business-oriented nominee. If the economy improves at an increased rate? The conventional wisdom is that Obama’s reelection would then much easier.
- Gas Prices: Tied to the economy, surely, but right now seemingly a separable issue. For probably a number of reasons, the economy is moving forward even as gas prices have climbed to what seem to be nonsense levels. Gas is REALLY expensive right now. Without a change or slackening off in fuel costs, the GOP will have a clear issue with which they can take Obama to task. Speeches filled with pipelines, drilling, and alternative energy sources may well be in our future.
- Afghanistan: Public support for the war is at a low ebb, and if Obama makes an uncharacteristic misstep here or events take an unfavorable turn, he could well be held responsible by voters. Then again, the war wasn’t his idea (or Romney’s) so he may get a pass here.
- Iran: A real wildcard in international politics and this presidential election. Tied up into this are Americans’ opinions about the military, the state of Israel, our dependence on oil, and other issues. Iran’s actions over the next few months may have a lot of impact on who Americans turn to for leadership in an uncertain future. If things stay the same as they are now, however, Obama is likely favored.
Social issues like abortion or gay marriage may not figure very prominently in this year’s campaign rhetoric, and I suspect that–barring a full-on Obama war on the Supreme Court–debate about them won’t be as pointed as during some other elections.
As always, we will see…