By JOE GANDELMAN – Syndicated Columnist
Are President Obama and the Democrats political toast?
There are signs that could be the case. Even signs that Democrats could lose the Senate, not win back the House and lose the Oval Office. But…WAIT!
Welcome to our manic depressant election year where you can choose the poll or argument of your partisan liking and the only certainty will be: predictions are risky. But there is good data out there.
For instance, the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato and his ace "Crystal Ball" political science team do some of the most reliably solid political predictions available. A recent piece by Crystal Ball senior columnist Alan Abramowitz offered grim news for Democrats: Data suggests Republicans are in a good position to keep the House and could at the very least cut into the Democrats’ existing Senate majority – raising the prospect of a GOP Senate takeover.
So the Republicans look like they’re in far better shape than some thought? But…WAIT!
There’s a wild card on the horizon that could prove a huge blow to the GOP in Presidential and Congressional elections: Signs the party’s poll rankings with women are seriously tanking. A Gallup/USA Today poll found women fleeing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for Obama in 12 key swing states. Obama has now opened up a 51 percent to 42 percent general lead there and beats Romney 2-to-1 among women under 50. GOPers: this is your anti-contraception talk and mandatory ultra-sound laws at work.
Romney is more than halfway to the 1,144 delegates needed to win the Republican nomination. But former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum insists he’ll stay in the race, as he attacks Romney for not being a real conservative and stalls the start of the general election campaign. Former Bush advisor Michael Garson notes that to defeat Obama, Romney must politically retool. But Santorum keeps shoving Romney to the right. Romney needs that like Rush Limbaugh needs a banana split.
Romney has become The Blah Candidate. Many leading Republicans endorsing him seem a) stunningly unenthusiastic, or, b) suggest it’s time to endorse him since the primary has gone on too long. Comedian Jon Stewart points out that with this level of enthusiasm, "’I like Ike’ would have been ‘Ike’s Fine,’" and "’It’s Morning Again in America’ would have been ‘Yeah … It’s Time to Get Up.’"
Still, perceived boring (Romney) could trump perceived over-his-head (Obama) so don’t count Romney out. Are there limits on how much slow progress Americans will tolerate? Perhaps – because we seem to be entering a new era of visible limits.
For instance, talkers Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann discovered limits in their dealings with corporations that once employed them. Beck was too Twilight Zone-ish right for Fox News. And the liberal Olbermann reportedly pulled his "I’m a Star" act on Al Gore’s Current TV one time too many (reportedly complaining about the company’s Benny’s Bargain Basement production values, occasionally not showing up for work, and complaining that some drivers from different car services smelled and talked to him). Beck and Olbermann should co-host a new show: "Fired Up and Ready to Go."
The health care law backlash illustrated the public’s limits on watching blatant, seemingly endless Congressional political deal making. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s crash and burn showed that Republican voters could distinguish between a person with big ideas and one with lousy and batty ones. Santorum’s rapid fall among some voters underscored how some voters refuse to refight 1950s battles (contraception) or 1960s battles (separation of church and state as outlined by JFK).
When it comes to predicting the November vote, all serious political science data and analysis, polls, predictions by smug insider pundits on cable – even columns such as this – can’t obscure the fact that the election will be determined by swing voters, unforeseen events, the economy and the impressions the two Presidential candidates make with their big convention speeches and in Presidential debates.
And on Election Day the key question for many voters will come down to this: which presidential candidate crosses the most unacceptable boundary? Obama or Romney?
To the least unacceptable, least odoriferous, lesser of two evils goes the Oval Office spoils.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He can be reached at [email protected].