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Don’t write him off

Adam Newman | Sunday, November 6, 2011

The outlook for President Barack Obama’s re-election is grim: unemployment is 9 percent and the economic recovery is weak. About 60 percent of Americans disapprove of how he is handling the economy, and a majority of Americans have an unfavorable view of health care reform.

The Tea Party is energized, while liberals can’t find the same optimism they possessed in 2008. This begs a very obvious question: how can Barack Obama ever win in 2012?

At this point, I want to take you back seven years. It was a crisp, fall day in 2004, and I was walking my dog in my hometown of Evanston, Ill. As I was walking down my street, I passed by a neighbor’s home that had a blue sign with white letters in the window. The sign said “Obama for Senate.”

It is important to put Fall 2004 in context. Three years earlier, 3,000 Americans were killed by terrorist attacks led by a man named Osama bin Laden, and America was engaged in a global war on terror. Anti-Muslim sentiment was at a historical high. While I didn’t know anything about this candidate, I quickly wrote him off because I thought there was no way he could win. (I should be 100 percent clear at this point. This assumption was not based on any bigoted or racist stance on my part, but more on my questioning how a man whose named rhymed with “Osama” could ever win a Senate seat.) As I continued to walk my dog, I asked myself, “How can Barack Obama ever win in 2004?”

Alas, this was my introduction to Barack Obama — writing off the man who, four years later, would be elected President of the United States. If there was ever a bonehead political prediction in the past decade, it belongs to me. Soon after I wrote Obama off, he gave the keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. As many who watched it know, Obama didn’t just give a speech; he gave the speech of a lifetime: (“I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that, in no other country on earth is my story even possible.”) Americans knew this politician was different.

Just three years later, the young Senator announced his candidacy for President. His main opponent, Hillary Clinton, possessed a political machine, and name recognition that initially made her a lock for the Democratic nomination. Many, especially Democratic stalwarts, wrote Obama off. Just like me, they asked themselves. “How can Barack Obama ever win in 2008?”

But we all know what happened. Obama seized the nation’s desire for a different kind of politics, ran a masterful campaign, raised massive amounts of money and was able to appeal to Americans across the political spectrum. He won the 2008 election by winning the traditionally blue states, the swing states and a handful of traditionally red states.

So for those who ask, “How can Barack Obama ever win in 2012?”, there is one theme from Obama’s past decade of political success you should know. People always have, and will continue to, write Obama off. But despite the opposition, Obama has always been able to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles.

It is also important to remember President Obama still has political strengths. He retains the political team that helped deliver the 2008 election, a majority of Americans still like him as a person and he is one of the most powerful speakers of our time. Obama’s fundraising effort is still robust, as shown by the $70 million he raised in the third quarter of 2011 — more than all the Republican candidates combined.

But what may be most valuable is that President Obama is still candidate Obama, the politician who could inspire young people and minorities, appeal to independents and moderate Republicans and instill within Americans the belief that our best days are still ahead of us.

Regardless of Obama’s strengths as a candidate, the 2012 election is the Republicans to win, simply because of the state of the economy.

But much can go wrong. The Tea Party could make the Republican candidate focus more on the size and role of government than the economy. The economy could improve as the election nears, dramatically helping the President. And the Republicans could make the colossal error of nominating someone other than Mitt Romney, the only candidate who keeps the President’s political strategists up at night

Will Obama win re-election in 2012? I don’t know. But what I do know (and the Republicans should, too) is that writing off Barack Obama has never been part of a successful campaign strategy.

Adam Newman is a junior finance major. He can be reached at anewman3@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.