WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — In 2008, it was all about “hope and change” as then-Sen. Barack Obama was campaigning for the White House.
Now, four years later, President Obama is facing a tough re-election campaign with unemployment above 8 percent, gas prices hovering around $4 and his groundbreaking health care law under review from the Supreme Court.
With a country delved deep into multiple crises, pundits say Obama’s chances at re-election could be quickly derailed if any one of the following happens.
1. Obama Takes Economy Into Double-Dip Recession
Once again, it’s all about the economy, stupid.
“If there’s a double-dip recession, or even a marked slowdown, President Obama will be in deep trouble, and his team knows it,” Larry Sabato, Director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, told CBSDC.
Under Obama, the national unemployment rate has dropped from 10 percent in October 2009 to 8.2 percent last month. But the big problem is the millions that remain unemployed and underemployed.
“Assuming there’s a recovery gaining steam, Obama has to convince people it is real and not a mirage,” Sabato said. “President Bush 41 lost even though the economy had been out of recession since 1991; Clinton did a better job of persuasion than Bush. Perceptions matter a great deal when people are insecure and worried after a tough recession.”
If Obama is able to get the economy back on track – a recent Quinnipiac University poll says registered voters disapprove of the way the president is handling the economy, 56 to 38 percent – then the spotlight could come down on the policies of his expected Republican opponent, Mitt Romney.
“It becomes easier for the president to make it a choice election rather than a referendum,” Ed Kilgore, Managing Editor of The Democratic Strategist, told CBSDC. “The president can make it a character election with Romney.”
If the economy starts to improve more come November, that could diminish Romney’s chances of getting elected.
“Romney has the opposite worry – that the economy will begin to improve noticeably or even roar as it did for Reagan in 1984 and Clinton in 1996,” Sabato said. “That’s unlikely, of course, but it’s possible.”
2. Supreme Court Knocks Down Obamacare
Surprisingly, the Supreme Court could help decide another election as a ruling on the president’s health care law is expected this summer. Should the law be knocked down, one of Obama’s biggest pet projects will stand incomplete, a major slap to his time in office.
Kilgore believes that even if the court decides to rule the health care law as unconstitutional, it could actually benefit Obama.
“On the one hand, it will be perceived as a setback for the president and it knocks out a major accomplishment. On the other hand, it will shift attention from ‘Obamacare’ and put health care back on the table as a problem that needs to be solved.”
Jay Zeidman, national co-chairman for Maverick PAC – a group that targets young Republicans – told CBSDC that he believes Obama will try to paint a picture that he used Romney’s Massachusetts health care plan as a basis for his.
“I think you will really see Obama attack Romney on the health care side,” Zeidman said.
3. Obama’s Response If Israel Bombs Iran
As Obama is on the campaign trail this summer, he will have to keep a watchful eye out for what develops between Israel and Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not hidden the fact that Iran is a threat and that a military option is on the table to take out Iran’s nuclear reactors. Obama and Netanyahu have butted heads over the issue, with the president saying they should stick to diplomatic sanctions against the country.
“My number one issue is the security and safety of Israel,” Zeidman said. “This president has been the worst on Israel in modern history. He’s jeopardized the relationship with our oldest and closest ally.”
Zeidman also added he doesn’t understand why Jewish voters would support Obama because of this.
Kilgore thinks that an international crisis might be beneficial to Obama if he can take charge of the situation, but if gas prices go up even more over a possible Israel-Iran conflict, it would be “counter-productive.”
“That scenario could create an oil crisis, boosting gas prices significantly.”
4. Gas Prices Continue To Rise Heading Into November
Gas prices have been hovering around $4 a gallon across the nation, busting open the wallets of tens of millions of motorists.
Republicans have been calling on the president to tap into American resources to help bring the cost of gas prices down, but Obama has indicated that won’t do much to curb the pain at the pump.
“We have to tap into our resources here,” Zeidman told CBSDC. “He has failed to do that. It’s an opportunity for Republicans to seize.”
Obama has also taken a beating from Republicans for his opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline that would stretch from Canada to Texas. The administration says it is waiting for the pipeline developer, TransCanada, to submit a new route that avoids environmentally sensitive lands.
5. Obama Fails To Galvanize The Youth Vote Like 2008
In 2008, the youth vote flocked to Obama, helping him cruise to victory, but his campaign could have trouble galvanizing younger Americans this time around.
Eighteen percent of the electorate was under the age of 30 in 2008, with Obama getting 66 percent of those votes.
According to a report from the Center for the Study of the American Electorate, there is not much enthusiasm from younger voters leading into November.
“Polls show that the base of the Democratic Party still supports the president, but the enthusiasm level is much diminished and the disappointment level is much elevated,” the study said.
Kilgore says it will be hard for Obama to reduplicate that kind of turn out.
“I think that is why the Obama campaign has invested so much, so early in a get out the vote effort,” Kilgord told CBSDC. “They have a very big advantage over Republicans on that front.”
Obama will be speaking to college students Tuesday at the University of North Carolina and the University of Colorado about extending a law that cut interest rates on a popular federal loan program for low- and middle-income undergraduates. If the law expires, the rates will double on July 1, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.
Alex Schriver, chairman of the College Republican National Committee, told CBSDC that the president is only offering a “band-aid solution to a larger problem.”
“President Obama has failed young voters,” Schriver said. “His policies have hurt this demographic.”
Obama blames Republicans for voting against new ways to make college more affordable for middle-class families. But it was House Democrats who cut interest rates on the school loans in 2007 and included an expiration provision that placed the looming increase in the middle of an election year.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Friday that more than 7 million students would be financially squeezed if rates were to rise, to the cost of an additional $1,000 on average.
But in the end, Romney will have to overcome one big thing, according to Sabato: beating an incumbent.
“Defeating an incumbent president is never a cinch, and while mainly, if it happens, it’ll be a rejection of Obama, there must be a belief in the electorate generally that Romney is a decent bet to fill the Oval Office,” he said.
(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)