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Do any of the possible GOP nominees pose a challenge to President Obama in 2012?

BY DI EDITORIAL STAFF | APRIL 22, 2011 7:20 AM

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YES

It's soon in the 2012 campaign to make an accurate prediction, but I'm going to toss in my hat: Those betting on the failure of the GOP shouldn't wager the house.

A New York Times/CBS News poll released Thursday found that Americans are more pessimistic about the economy and future than any time in the last two years. Combine this with some economists' predictions that we're headed into a double-dip recession and the current reality of a job-minimal recovery, and you get a recipe for discontent with the current occupant of the White House.

For many voters, it would be nothing personal against Barack Obama; just an imprecise dissatisfaction that is easy to project onto his administration. Some candidates, such as Rep. Michele Bachmann or fake candidate Donald Trump, likely wouldn't have enough broad appeal to capitalize on this rumbling sentiment. But some, including former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, might do well — particularly if Obama fails to turn out the youth vote.

As possible Republican presidential contenders visit Iowa more and more frequently, there's yet to be any substantial sign that Obama's inspiring a similar fervor among his former base. And Republicans are diving into social media headfirst — perhaps to compensate for the advantage it seemed to offer Democrats in 2008 and to continue the success of online Tea Party organizing.

The ridiculous hyperbole on both sides tends to obscure the field. Obama is not "the worst president ever," but he's also proven disappointing to — and may lose — the idealistic left, who would have liked to see Guantánamo finally closed, greater civil liberties, and troops home from foreign wars.

(On this last: Boots on the ground in Libya would sink Obama's re-election nearly surely.)

While it may be a muddled mess right now, next year's primaries are ripe for a challenger who energizes the base while snatching up a center electorate worried about the debt and the economy.

For a challenger like Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, or Mitt Romney, there's a solid shot. They'll have to step up their game, but they can do it.

— Shay O'Reilly

NO

Get ready for four more years.

As the caucus season approaches, it is clear that no Republican challenger will be able to beat Barack Obama. The GOP's candidates range from outrageous to impotent, and few of them even appeal to the entire caucus, let alone the broader electorate. There is no clear leader within the party, and Donald Trump is being turned on by party whales.

A poor economy can doom a president's re-election hopes, and there's no question the economy under Obama has fared poorly. Whether or not it's his fault, voters may try to take out their frustration by lashing out against the status quo. Republicans have tried to take ownership of this issue, screaming the words "job-killing" until their faces turn blue, but they have failed to establish themselves as a clear superior choice.

Obama has also failed to make himself an especially compelling leader. He has been noticeably silent for much of his first term on important issues and seems to prefer to let Congress squabble while he referees. This changed with his budget speech last Wednesday, which can be viewed as a presidential epiphany and the kickoff of Obama 2012. The president finally realized that relying on Congress to fix the budget was a lost cause, and that voters needed to see leadership on the issue from the White House. What better way for him to do that than through a speech.

Talking in front of people is what Obama does best, and he's a behemoth on the campaign trail even without the incumbency advantage he holds, an advantage that cannot be overstated. A sitting president seems far more legitimate than any challenger. He drives with a motorcade, flies in the world's most recognizable airplane, and gets to use the Presidential Seal at speaking engagements.

Transitioning into the role of campaigner-in-chief hugely tilts the playing field in Obama's direction, and the pool of potential Republican challengers will not be able to knock him off that pedestal.

— Will Mattessich


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