Government & Politics
 

Four years is a split-second eternity—no matter who wins tonight

Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson: Is the Libertarian a longshot for 2016? photo: Steve Terrell, Flickr

I expected the 2012 race for national office to be a weird one. Instead, it’s been pretty stable. Sorry about that.

I didn’t think Republicans would nominate former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney to lead their crusade against President Barack Obama. Obama appeared to be in a weak spot. Conservatives were still coasting on the “Tea Party” caffeine that helped flip the House of Representatives to the GOP. Yet they decided to dilute  their political “brand,” and opt for a handsome corporate turnaround specialist—Mr. Electability, instead of Mr. or Ms. Ideologue.

Romney may have been their “best” option, given the flawed, “not ready for prime time” GOP alternatives, such as Rep. Michele Bachmann and pizza chain magnate Herman Cain.

We’ll know later tonight if that was a winning decision.

For many conservatives, the stakes in this election couldn’t be higher. They regard Obama as a collectivist who is bent on dismantling the American dream. To them, he’s some bizarre hybrid of Jimmy Carter, Woodrow Wilson and (insert Marxist or Fascist dictator here).

Many liberals, on the other hand, view Obama as too compromising and centrist. He hasn’t fully delivered on the big promises he made four years ago. So, in order to mobilize the disenchanted, Obama has had to run a campaign based on fear (of Romney) instead of hope.

Meanwhile, the moderates and independents who will decide the election hold a mixed view. They applaud Obama for liquidating Al Qaeda’s leadership but are wary of his health care act. Most of all they are frustrated by the country’s slow recovery from the Great Recession.

Veteran political analyst Clancy Dubos regularly reminds us that “each election is a unique event.” And he’s right. Each election is different and discrete. The last one shouldn’t be viewed as a strict “prologue” to the next.

For example, remember 2004? President George W. Bush won Ohio by a narrow margin, and was re-elected. Somehow, based on this result and the ridiculously narrow margin in Florida in 2000, Karl Rove, Bush’s political “architect,” envisioned long-term Republican dominance for decades to come.

Then came Katrina in 2005, a Democratic congress in 2006, and a near-depression with the market crash in 2008 (and wars ongoing in Afghanistan and Iraq). Almost simultaneous with the crash, a first-term senator from Illinois won a landslide victory in the presidential election with a total of 365 electoral votes. Obama carried North Carolina, Indiana and the Omaha district in Nebraska.

That won’t happen this time around. 2012 might be a unique election event, but it also carries a strong whiff of 2004. Eight years ago, Democrats were nearly as rabidly anti-Bush as today’s GOP is anti-Obama. They were more energized but, ultimately, Bush was able to convince 120,000 more Ohioans to vote for him over his challenger.

Obama basically has the same task Bush had: win Ohio by a narrow but durable margin, and secure re-election. Obama has a couple of alternative routes to victory, though, which include swing states such as Iowa, Nevada, Colorado and Virginia. In terms of Electoral College votes, Louisiana’s in the same ballpark as those states. But since we’re not a swing state,  Romney and Obama haven’t spent much time here, save for a couple photo ops after Hurricane Isaac (and even that was more about national perception than Louisiana’s coastal recovery issues).

According to poll aggregators such as Nate Silver and Sam Wang, Obama has a better than 90-percent chance to win. Other pollsters see a closer race, and pundits … Well, pundits have a way of seeing what they want to see.

If Obama wins re-election narrowly, as Bush did in 2004, Democrats should remind themselves of the lessons from that period. Political landscapes can change more quickly than anticipated. I can already see them caught up in the euphoria of victory, talking about a long-term national “political realignment” based on “demographic destiny” and other simplistic notions.

Then Gov. Bobby Jindal wins a landslide victory in 2016.

Hey, if that happened it wouldn’t be any more far-fetched than Obama’s victory. You might say, well, Jindal’s not the campaigner that Obama is. Maybe not yet. But he sure has gained a lot of experience this past year, stumping in swing states for Romney as well as for Texas Governor Rick Perry in the primaries. I’m sure he’s got his 10-minute “Louisiana Miracle” speech down pat.

Anyone elated or depressed by the results tonight should remember two things: 1) four years isn’t a long time and 2) a lot can happen in four years.

OK, one last thing. Few have discussed the possibility that former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson—former Republican presidential wannabe turned Libertarian candidate—might turn out to be a difference-maker in the Ohio vote totals. Last year I saw Johnson speak at the Republican Leadership Conference held in New Orleans. He’s not a fiery presence on the stump, but he drew loud applause when he talked about issues such as draconian Medicare  cuts and marijuana legalization. (He’s for them both!) It would be amazing if this little-known candidate—who was frozen out of most of the GOP debates and who couldn’t get on the Sunday political talk shows (as Green Party candidate Ralph Nader did in previous years), was the difference in a $2 billion election that decided the next leader of the free world.

I don’t think it’s in the cards, though. 2012 has disappointed me with its lack of weirdness.

Thus, I’ll predict Obama grinds out an uninspiring win with 303 electoral votes. The biggest surprise is that he wins Ohio by a wider margin than he does Pennsylvania.

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