Mid-term misery for President Barack Obama


Commentators and poll analysts from left and right have already prety much awarded the Senate to Republicans. All it will take is six seats to swing the Senate behind the House into the Republican camp. Although, as they say, the only poll that matters is the one on the day, the November 4th mid-term elections appear likely to be a another blow to President Obama whose legislative agenda in his final, fourth half term will face insupperable obstacles, and who could even see serious attempts to unravel some of his important achievement like the healthcare reform and banking regulation.

Among House priorities currently stalled and likely to get a new wind are the controversial Keystone XL pipeline; expanding offshore oil drilling; blocking federal regulation of “fracking”; and open national forests to timber companies – collectively, an environmentalist’s nightmare.

To achieve any progress on an issue like immigration reform Obama will now need to see a serious rethink by large sections of the Republican Party of a policy that has massively alienated crucial Hispanic voters in the South. But although there have been signs in the primaries that the Tea Party predominance may be waning, the GOP shows little sign of turning. The problem for immigration reform supporters is that in the eight states which the Republicans are most likely to win to retake the Senate, Hispanics are a tiny share of the electorate – fewer than 5 percent of eligible voters. Their concerns can be, and are, ignored, whatever the consequences for the party’s presidential campaigning.

The bleak reality of minority positions in both chambers has even led on the foreign policy front to Obama’s advisers working out out how he can circumvent the congressional approval process should he reach a deal with Iran on its nuclear programme and which Republicans are sure to want to veto.

Obama faces the challenge of every second-term presidency. A combination of low approval ratings – 40 per cent in the latest Washington Post poll – and the usual midterm abysmal turnout rates, between 41 and 42 per cent in the last three mid-terms, has hit Democrats hard. The party’s core constutuencies - blacks, women, the young – are even less likely to vote.

Most candidates want the president nowhere near their campaign, some have even refused to say whether they voted for him. They winced when he declared that while he was not up for re-election, his “policies are on the ballot.” An aide as good as retratcted the remark. In the South the presidential presence is instead that of former President Bill Clinton busy building alliances and a bank of favours-to-be-returned, preparing the ground for his wife’s almost inevitable return to the presidential fray.

How times have changed for a president who romped home in 2008 with a ten million majority, the first Democrat since Franklin D Roosevelt twice to win more than 50 per cent of the vote. And how difficult it will be to fashion a legacy in the next two years in the face of such obstacles and a hostile climate from inside as well as outside his own party.