Thursday, November 04, 2010

Midterm Setback Not All Bad For Obama

President Obama's Democrats have suffered a series of bad results in the US midterm elections. They lost control of the House of Representatives to the Republicans, and only just managed to hang on to the Senate. The Republican politician who will be the next House Speaker, John Boehner, has said cutting spending is his top priority for the months ahead.

As bleak as the results seem for Mr Obama, there's an argument to be made that Tuesday's voting makes his re-election to the presidency in 2012 more rather than less likely. For a start, the Republicans now have to start running the country alongside the Democrats. Over the last two years, when the Democrats have controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency, the Republicans have had few political levers to pull beyond opposing much of the Democrats' agenda. It may have given them the nickname of 'the party of no,' but it helped on Tuesday, as voters squarely blamed the Democrats for the sluggish nature of America's economic recovery.

But now they've got at least some national power back, the Republicans will have to go about actually governing instead of hurling criticism from the sidelines. This means that, if the economy continues to struggle in the coming months, the Democrats will try to force their opponents to share the blame. Also, with many Republican politicians having swept into office thanks to support from the right-wing Tea Party faction, any compromising of campaign promises in order to get laws passed could lead to a backlash against those same Republicans who are riding high for the time being. If Republicans will find it hard to go on saying no, they might find trying to govern just as difficult.

Two more elements are worth considering as we look ahead to the next presidential election. It's still two years away, and even if growth in the American economy remains slow for a good while to come, there's a good chance it'll have improved significantly by 2012. Just as Mr Obama has been blamed this week for poor economic conditions (when his name wasn't even on the ballot), you can bet he'll do everything he can to take the credit for whatever improvements we see between now and polling day.

Then there's the big choice facing Republicans, namely who their candidate will be. While the highly energised Tea Party supporters would prefer a right-winger in their own image like Sarah Palin or Jim DeMint, the Republicans' chances of winning over independent and middle-ground voters would probably be better served by picking someone more moderate, like the rather-dull-but-well-known Mitt Romney. It's difficult to see any of the potential contenders beating Mr Obama though. Yes he (probably) can, again.

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