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US Economy Crucial To Obama's Re-Election Hopes

President Obama (file photo)
President Obama (file photo)

President Barack Obama made it official Monday, he is off and running for re-election next year. The president’s re-election prospects have improved in recent months, but there are still many questions about the state of the domestic economy and the growing number of foreign policy challenges facing the president in the months ahead.

In keeping with the latest means of political communication, the president’s re-election was launched via email and text messages to millions of grassroots supporters.

It also included the release of a campaign video with Obama supporters urging voters to focus on next year’s election. “We are not leaving it up to chance, we are not leaving it up to, oh, you know, 'He is the incumbent.' It is an election that we have to win,” he said.

President Obama’s political standing has improved a bit since last November when Republicans won a resounding victory in midterm congressional elections by retaking control of the House of Representatives and reducing the Democratic majority in the Senate.

For the most part, the president remains at about 50 percent approval in most public-opinion polls and most experts give Mr. Obama a slight advantage in next year’s race against a yet to be determined Republican opponent.

But Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown has noticed some slippage in the president’s approval rating of late and says voters will begin to pay more attention to the campaign in the months ahead. “But it is a crucial point. If he were to continue to go lower, for instance if his (poll) numbers dropped into the 30’s, that would be very significant and that would obviously be an increasing problem for him as he looks towards his re-election campaign,” he said.

Presidential poll ratings often go hand-in-hand with how voters feel about the state of the domestic economy. The Obama White House got some good news last week as the nation’s unemployment rate continues to slowly drop, now down to 8.8 percent, a two year low.

“The next election will, more than anything else, depend on employment in the United States,” said Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

University of Virginia expert Larry Sabato says the single most important issue in next year’s election will be how voters rate Mr. Obama on economic issues. “In the end, voters do not ask why the economy is good or bad. They simply give credit or blame to the incumbent president,” he said.

But foreign policy could play a major role as well, given the current situation in Libya, the continuing turmoil in the Middle East generally and the expected draw down of some U.S. forces from Afghanistan later this year.

Political analyst Charlie Cook says Mr. Obama wants to model his re-election effort more along the lines of former President Ronald Reagan’s successful 1984 re-election campaign and avoid the fate of former President Jimmy Carter, who lost his bid for re-election in 1980.

“What Obama has to fear is being President Carter where world events just spiral out of control and he seemed just completely helpless. And what he has to aspire to is a (former President Ronald) Reagan who had some setbacks along the way, certainly, but enjoyed a very strong economy and rebound and was able to run on ‘Morning in America’ (restoring American pride),” Cook said.

More than a dozen Republicans are considering a run for president next year, but none has officially announced their candidacy. Expert Larry Sabato says that gives the president a bit of an early advantage in terms of media coverage and fundraising.

“(Former Massachusetts) Governor Romney, former Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, even more minor candidates like former Senator Rick Santorum or Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, they seem to be out there doing a lot of campaigning and that matters. But whether the Republican Party ends up with a nominee who can actually win is yet to be determined, and most of the determination will be made by the economy and not the Republican electorate,” Sabato said

History suggests President Obama is a favorite for re-election, but by no means a sure thing. Since World War II only two elected U.S. presidents have lost re-election - Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George H.W. Bush in 1992.