Liz Elsewhere

The Daily Caller , June 23rd, 2011
“The identity of the GOP nominee matters”
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Among many political commentators, the meme du jour regarding the 2012 presidential race is that President Obama’s real opponent is the economy; who Republicans nominate is of limited importance.

On its face, this characterization makes sense. As Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson note in their book about the 2008 election, as early as spring 2007, focus groups were turning out results that showed deep pessimism about the country’s direction, with economic worries overshadowing all else. That was a setup that inherently put Sen. John McCain in a bind, as the candidate wearing the same partisan label as the incumbent overseeing what many voters saw as a period of deep national decline. When the financial crisis hit, the deal was sealed: McCain was, you might say, destined to lose.

But what if McCain had faced a different opponent, one less associated with the dual concepts of “hope” and “change,” one less capable of raising money, one lacking a platform like MyBarackObama that gave Obama an online and offline boost? The election likely would have been closer. What if Republicans had nominated a candidate other than McCain, arguably at the time the Republican with the strongest appeal to Independent and Democratic voters? Obama would have had an even greater edge.

The reality is, in politics, myriad factors affect the outcome of races, and the identity of the candidates matters.

With the 2012 presidential race now underway, and the Republican field largely set, Obama has two major, related liabilities: The economy and the general sense of the direction of the country. He also has a number of assets: Americans like him (if not his policies); recent polling shows him scoring better on foreign policy and national security matters than on the economy; he is likely to have a very large campaign war-chest; the RNC remains in financially dire straits, and Democratic-aligned third-party groups will play in the 2012 race just as Republican-aligned groups will. Obama will do a better job than most, perhaps all, Republican candidates in leveraging technology to boost his campaign. Perhaps most importantly, he is the incumbent. To what extent any of these factors proves overwhelming, or irrelevant, depends not just on the unemployment rate, but also greatly on whom Republicans nominate.

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