By John Feehery - 02/06/12 11:13 PM EST
“It’s the economy, stupid.” That was the battle cry from Bill Clinton’s crack campaign team in the months leading up to the 1992 election.
And the conventional wisdom continues to be that Americans vote their pocketbooks when deciding whom to support in presidential elections.
The unemployment rate is at 8.3 percent, on the high end of the historical average, which should be bad for Barack Obama. But it is trending the right way, which is usually a good sign for the incumbent.
Mitt Romney, the likely Republican standard-bearer, has run his whole campaign on the argument that he can run the economy better than Obama because he has deep experience as a CEO. But CEOs are about as popular as the Congress, so that theory might be a bit flawed.
Here are some other factors that will play an outsized role in this campaign.
Foreign policy: Obama has tried to make the case that because he authorized the assassination of Osama bin Laden, he deserves reelection. But storm clouds are gathering in the Middle East, and they threaten to make that one action a distant memory. Israel and Iran are edging ever closer to an overt, full-scale conflict that will in all likelihood drag in the United States. That conflict will sharply increase gas prices and put Americans in greater danger of terrorist attacks.
Another flash point is Egypt, where American citizens are now being held in the country against their will. The last thing President Obama needs now is a hostage crisis that brings back memories of what happened to Jimmy Carter and Iran.
The Arab Spring, tacitly supported by the president, has turned into an Arab winter of discontent, destabilization and danger. Obama looks less like a sophisticated and smart leader of freedom, and more like a hapless witness to history.
Religion: Much has been made about Mitt Romney’s vulnerabilities when it comes to his Mormon religion. Expect more stories about why the Romney family immigrated to Mexico in the first place (polygamy) and more in-depth exposés about the mysteries of Mormonism. But Obama is on more vulnerable ground on this topic. Many Americans are still convinced that the president has embraced his father’s religion: Islam.
But it is the Obama administration’s hostility to religious freedom that might be more important in how voters react in this campaign. The Catholic Church (and not just the hierarchy) is as energized as it ever has been in reaction to the Obama administration’s efforts to implement its healthcare law. Catholic voters delivered Obama the White House in 2008, and they could take it away from him in November.
Electoral map: It is hard to see how Obama gets himself reelected without winning Ohio. And while Mitt Romney has some work to do there, he should feel pretty good about his chances. Hillary Clinton easily won Ohio in her primary fight against Obama, and John McCain only lost the state by 4 points, despite his overwhelming disadvantages there. Obama’s reelection number in the state is below 50 percent and his policies were roundly rejected in the midterm elections, which saw the state’s Republican Party rebound with a sweep.
The president’s biggest problem in Ohio (as in Pennsylvania and Michigan) are his poll numbers with the white working class. Obama cannot win those states if he can’t do better with white working-class men and women, who currently give him approval ratings of only about 30 percent. These voters don’t love Mitt Romney, but they can’t stand Obama — and that could make the difference in November.
Feehery is president of Quinn Gillespie Communications and spent 15 years working in the House Republican leadership. He is a contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog and blogs at thefeeherytheory.com.