LAGOS, Nigeria — Nigeria is probably one of the most politically explosive places I've visited in the past two decades. While many people of influence root and continue to have hope for President Obama and his policies, they are becoming more and more skeptical about his chances for reelection. They are hungry to know more about Mitt Romney and his chances of defeating Obama in the 2012 elections. While emphasizing it's too early in the race to predict any outcome, I did my best to give them and our readers a realistic outlook.
Polls tend to get over-played, over-read, and overestimated, especially this early in a contest, and definitely among presidential hopefuls.
But nationwide polls released last week sizing up this president’s performance have the White House worried. I haven’t exactly been invited to the White House in recent weeks, but I’m willing to bet the farm they’re worried, all right. Over 72 percent of Americans feel the country is headed in the wrong direction on the economy, and their approval rating of Congress would make even Bernie Madoff a popular guy by comparison.
But in a general-election match-up, the numbers settle out a little. Based on NBC’s polls last week, a hypothetical contest between Obama and the GOP presidential nominee front-runner, Rick Perry, the president actually bests the Texas governor by five points, 47 percent to 42. The president barely edges former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by one — 46 percent to 45 — and he pretty much edges out candidates down the list such as Herman Cain, Ron Paul, etc.
What’s interesting is the generic Republican candidate versus Obama. In that head-to-head, the GOP candidate beats Obama, 44-40 percent, the first time this year that’s occurred.
That tells me two things that Hill readers probably already knew:
1) Personalities matter. President Obama is a nice guy. He’s a smart guy, and folks want to pull for him. After all, so many Americans voted for him, and they like to see their horse do better than finish last. But the race to the White House is not a personality contest. Not unless the Republicans nominate Rick Perry, and then Team Obama starts caricaturing him as Bush 43, part II.
Obama’s reelection chances are severely hindered so long as Republicans make this a referendum on his presidency, and not how nice he is. That’s why, to me, Romney stacks up better. He can keep a general-election match-up squarely on the issues, while avoiding some shoot-from-the-hip slang that one would have to imagine would get Perry in trouble, helping Obama.
2) Turnout matters. The poll numbers above don’t measure turnout, and they certainly don’t account for the certain drop we’ll see this election cycle among Obama supporters versus 2008. There were folks who voted for the first time, just to see an African-American elected president. Now the polish has worn off that apple. It’s less about history, and more about who will lead America out of the wilderness. Here again, this favors Mitt Romney in a general election.
November 2012 is a long ways off, but these two election-year variables will remain. It’s interesting to see if Perry’s team can sense its candidate’s weaknesses, mitigate them and still make this election about Obama’s seeming ineptitude.