After the initial doubts and skepticism about presidential candidate Barack Obama waned, the nation—indeed, the world—quickly became enthralled by this man who they barely knew and had the audacity to hope he could be president of the United States.
How things have changed since 2008. The economy is still weak, unemployment is still high and the U.S. is engaged in a third military operation overseas. Can Obama, who announced his 2012 presidential campaign for re-election today, recapture the magic?
“You can’t ever recapture that first moment,” said Haynes Walton Jr., a University of Michigan political scientist. Obama now has a record by which he can be judged, and it’s not perfect. But as Walton noted, the president also has been tested in ways that no other, past or future, would even have wished for his opponent.
“I think that most Americans who look at his accomplishments with an open mind will give him credit where credit is due,” Walton said.
Michael Fauntroy, a political scientist at George Mason University, said that Obama started out so spectacularly strong that it would be pretty impossible to elicit the same level of passion and enthusiasm in voters that he did the first time around.
“For some voters, the bloom is off the rose, but not enough to keep him from winning,” Fauntroy said. “Some people on the left feel he hasn’t done as much as they’d hoped on issues like gay marriage and urban policy.” In addition, Fauntroy said, the Republican Party has not yet identified a prospective candidate who presents any real threat and their "isn't a particularly impressive group at this point.”
University of California-Davis political scientist Larry Berman agrees and believes that once a Republican nominee is identified, the stakes will be clearer for voters.
“Then Obama will be able to remotivate his base and strike those passions again because we are choosing the next leader of the United States, and when the stakes are that big, people who may feel alienated or lack passion today are likely to not feel it until there is someone at the top of the other ticket,” said Berman. “It’s hard to believe that the names being mentioned today wouldn’t motivate his base,” he added in reference to possible GOP candidates Herman Cain, Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin.
The president’s bigger challenge will be to once again win those critical electoral states where independents are looking for someone who will deliver on the economy, Berman said, adding, “American presidential elections are won in the middle.”
(Photo: Roger L.Wollenberg/Landov)