As for President Obama these days, there is both good news and bad. The good: the filing deadline has passed for the New Hampshire primary and he has drawn no opposition of note on the Democratic side. It confirms an easy path to renomination for the president that should ultimately brighten his reelection chances.
The bad news: the struggling economy has shown less and less prospect of righting itself, making it highly unlikely at this point that Obama can reprise Ronald Reagan’s successful 1984 campaign theme of “Morning in America.”
In September 1983, the nationwide unemployment rate was 9.2%, down 1.6 percentage points from the November 1982 midterm election (when it approached 11%). In September 2011, the unemployment rate was a comparable 9.1%, but has dropped only half a percentage point since last November (when it was 9.6%).
The perceptible decline in the unemployment rate throughout 1983 was accompanied by a rise in Reagan’s popularity. His presidential approval rating, which had fallen to 35% early in the year, approached 50% by Halloween 2003. Today, the flat-lining economy has helped keep Obama’s approval rating mired around 40% - not where a president running for reelection would like to be.
But the Obama White House has, at least, kept his route clear to renomination, enabling the president to save his energy and his money for the general election campaign to come. To be sure, he has drawn plenty of vocal criticism from a host of liberal Democrats, and a call from Ralph Nader and Princeton professor Cornel West for philosophically-based challengers to take on Obama in the party primaries. But none of note have come forth to run in New Hampshire, the traditional venue for the expression of intra-party disgruntlement.
In 1952, Democratic Sen. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee upset President Harry Truman in the Granite State, sending Truman to the political sidelines. In 1968, Democratic Sen. Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota embarrassed President Lyndon Johnson with an unexpectedly strong showing in New Hampshire that helped convince LBJ not to seek reelection. And in 1992, President George Bush lost nearly 40% of the state’s Republican primary vote to conservative commentator Pat Buchanan, visibly illustrating Bush’s electoral vulnerability.
This time, though, no Don Quixote has emerged to challenge Obama. No Hillary Clinton; no Russell Feingold; no Dennis Kucinich. Of the 13 entries who filed to oppose the president in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, none are known commodities. One entrant had the e-mail address, “americachangestoday.com.” Another could be reached at “workmorekeepless.com.” The last person to file in the Democratic primary was someone with the furry name of Vermin Supreme, who drew 43 votes last time in the state’s Republican presidential primary. For those who care, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.