Obama ahead in key states - but can he hold on to middle class?

Aug 2, 2012
Charles Laurence

The hot issue for middle-class Americans is not gays in the military or abortion rights – it's survival


BARACK OBAMA is beginning to look like a two-term president. With a month to go to the American political parties' nominating conventions - first the Republicans in Tampa Bay, Florida, and then the Democrats in Charlotte, North Carolina - the presidential race of 2012 is Obama's to lose.

The conventions are no more than theatre as delegates in silly hats long ago lost the muscle to change policy, let alone "nominate". For lack of much else to do, they bring the Vice-Presidential candidates popping out of the cake for the party surprise and a headline.

But they are the starting gun for the final sprint to the November polls, and they offer the platform for the candidates to deliver their most stirring speeches.

Obama is giving his not from the convention hall this year, but from a sports stadium nearby. This is a nice move which suggests his strategists want to move him out of the party milieu as fast as possible and to remind his old fans among the young that he is still a rock star who can play a stadium.

The volume will be at max from both sides from then on, with this slated to be the first billion-dollar election - and all that money going on television advertising.

There is always a doldrums in August before the conventions, and this year we don't even have any decent vacation stories in which candidates are charged with being too posh, too white, too black, too foreign or, in the celebrated case of "a guy called Mitt Romney" (attrib: Boris Johnson, Mayor of London), too cruel to his dog. (The hoary old tale of the Romneys driving off on a family holiday back in the 80s with their dog Seamus on the station wagon roof of the car has come back to bite the Republican candidate, but not severely – Seamus was inside a doggy crate, after all.)

Perhaps because George 'Dubya' Bush's Svengali Karl Rove, maestro of the Republican 'wedge issue', has gone back to Texas and aging Roger Ailes, king of the negative advert, is busy running Fox News, there is an astonishing lack of nasty, divisive, scandalous rhetoric, and no hint of an inappropriate sex act anywhere.

Meanwhile, gay marriage rights have flopped so badly as a Republican hand-grenade that the Democrats are ready to add them to their official platform.

Also, the state seems finally to be separating from the church. Reuters yesterday reported a Pew poll which showed that 60 per cent of voters know Romney is a Mormon, and that 81 per cent of them do not care. More than 60 per cent of Americans says it is important that their president is a true believer, but the god in question seems less important. (A remarkable 17 per cent also think Obama is Muslim against the 49 per cent who know he's Christian, while 45 per cent are "comfortable" with his religion, and 19 per cent "uncomfortable". Pew offers no guide to the logic of that sequence of figures.)

The New York Times offered what could turn out to be a clear and simple outline of the battle ahead when it published the latest Quinnipiac tracking polls from three of the crucial swing states that decide presidential elections: Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

What the polls found is that Obama wins on likeability, and dominates the women's vote everywhere; Romney can actually nose ahead on the economy, which is meant to be the top issue, but still trails overall.

The Times gives Obama an 11 per cent lead in Pennsylvania and six per cent in Florida and Ohio. Obama won all three states last time, and Romney will have to win at least two to beat him.

The big clue is that Quinnipiac saw Obama playing one winning card in all three states. He has been saturating them with television spots on Romney's income tax problem, and they are working. The Democrats may have found a millstone to hang around the titan of Bain Capital's neck.

Romney has come back from London, Israel and Poland looking like a chump to Europeans, and to a good few Americans too. His insult to the Palestinians – their culture keeps them in poverty – is the exception: Politico points out that he was speaking in Israel in front of Las Vegas casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who is not only a fervent Israel supporter but the Republicans' biggest individual donor and so counts for more than Arab-American votes in Detroit.

But the refusal of the pioneer of asset stripping and outsourcing at Bain to release more than two years of his tax records looks like an issue gaining traction for Obama.

Harry Reid, the Democrats' Senate Majority Leader, now claims that a former Romney colleague at Bain called him to say Romney had not paid taxes at all for 10 years. "He didn't pay taxes for 10 years! Now, do I know that that's true? Well, I'm not certain," said Reid. "But obviously he can't release those tax returns. How would it look?"

James Carville, the political strategist who won the White House for Bill Clinton in 1992 with the mantra "it's the economy stupid", has come up with a new one 20 years later: "It's the middle class, stupid."

He is probably right. In the quiet days before the big corporate advertising guns begin to boom, it looks as if Americans are concluding that the hot issues are no longer gays in the military, racial identity or the wars over abortion rights and Darwin, but whether they are going to fare well enough in the era of the "one per cent" to call themselves middle-class at all.

Obama, says Carville, has got to tell the voters what he will do about it. If he can keep the focus on that, he wins.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Disqus - noscript

This New Yorker says you're wrong - Obama will not win come November.