Obama poised for four more years of limited room for manoeuvre
OPINION:A re-elected Obama would enjoy about 18 months before entering his lame duck phase
THE NATIONAL polls may still point to a dead heat but there is a hardening conviction in Washington, among both Democrats and Republicans, that Barack Obama is heading for a narrow victory over Mitt Romney next Tuesday.
Even before Hurricane Sandy descended like a black swan over the campaign, the momentum Romney enjoyed since the first presidential debate last month had begun to stall and the president has retained a small but stubborn lead in a number of key swing states, notably Ohio. The hurricane allowed Obama to play every president’s most attractive role, that of father to the nation, while it subjected his challenger to an effective media blackout.
The storm also undermined Romney’s most effective closing argument, that the president had shown himself incapable of working across party lines whereas he, as a former Republican governor of the overwhelmingly Democratic state of Massachusetts, had a proven record of bipartisanship.
New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a long-standing Republican critic of Obama, this week became his booster-in-chief, praising his “outstanding” response to the storm as the two men made a joint visit to some of the communities worst affected.
Obama’s ecumenical credentials received a further fillip on Thursday when Republican- turned-Independent New York mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed him. One of the canniest and most cautious politicians in the US, Bloomberg declined to back either candidate in 2008 and spent much of the current campaign criticising both Obama and Romney. His decision to back the president, however lukewarm its tone, would have been unthinkable unless the mayor was convinced that Obama was going to win.
An Obama victory would come despite a disappointing first term and an uninspiring re-election campaign that included the most catastrophic presidential debate performance since Richard Nixon’s first televised encounter with John F Kennedy in 1960.
Nixon’s sweaty, unhealthy pallor owed much to the fact that he had just spent two weeks in hospital and was running a fever. Obama had no such excuse for his flaccid, disengaged appearance in Denver, where he allowed Romney to reposition himself as a moderate pragmatist, as opposed to the self-styled “severely conservative” candidate who contested the Republican primaries.
The race tightened everywhere but the impact of Romney’s reinvention was more muted in the seven battleground states of Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado and North Carolina.
For months, the Obama campaign had spent vast sums in these states on negative advertising aimed at defining Romney as, in the words of former Republican Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, “a wealthy plutocrat married to a known equestrian”.