And they are off in the big race…

The presidential election campaign starts in earnest this week, and what happens in the coming days will decide much about the coming race.

Obama, with an approval rating under 50 percent in many crucial states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, which he won in 2008, is heading out to make his case before the voters. He is wounded, no doubt about it, and many people including myself, ask themselves, “What Happened to Obama?” as Emory University professor Drew Westen does in his fascinating article in yesterday’s New York Times. We do not seem to know what Obama believes, Westen writes, he has not told his story.

The President still has some time to clarify this, but not much. The pace in the presidential campaign is now picking up markedly, as the Republicans are gathering in Iowa for a debate on Thursday and the Ames Straw Poll on Saturday. The Ames poll is a strange political event which is seen as the first indication of who are the candidates in the lead but has not always predicted the winner of the Iowa caucuses early next year.

Some of the Republican candidates are wounded, too, from how they handled last week’s momentous events. All of them, except Jon Huntsman, but including Mitt Romney — “the cowardly candidate,” as Michael Tomasky called him on the Daily Beast, criticized the debt ceiling deal. Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, and Thad McCotter voted against it in the House, all willing to take a default rather than a deal. Bachmann then blamed Obama for the downgrade of U.S. credit, echoed by Rich Santorum and Mitt Romney. They clearly see an opening here.

Have they shown themselves to be “presidential” last week? The answer is no. Still, the frontrunner, Mitt Romney, gives Obama a run for his money in recent polls in several States, but there is no enthusiasm for him among Republican voters. That’s why there is still so much speculation that Sarah Palin and/or Texas governor Rick Perry might still make a run for it. Both do well in the latest Gallup poll in spite of not formally being candidates, at least not yet.

The odds are for Perry to run. But is the country ready for another conservative republican governor from Texas? I doubt it, and I don’t think the prayer rally in Houston this weekend did him any good. He probably scared a lot of voters, who believe in the separation of church and state. And to beat Obama, you need a much broader base than the Christian right and the Tea Party.

So, it comes down to Mitt Romney as the man to beat, if he can survive the primaries…


170,000 questions to Obama on Twitter Town Hall

President Obama received nearly 170,000 questions via Twitter during his first Twitter Town Hall at the White House today.

Only a fraction of these could be answered during the webcast session, which lasted an hour and ten minutes. Obama’s verbal responses were generally very much longer than the maximum of 140 characters for the written questions. At one point, Obama apologized for his long answers but made no serious attempt to stay under Twitter’s maximum limit.

The Town Hall was similar to previous discussions with social media, which Facebook and YouTube hosted. We will surely see many more events with social media during this increasingly intense election campaign.

Here is a good summary in Washington Post’s online edition of today’s Town Hall. It contained no direct news but gave a good insight into how the President looks at the past two and a half years in the White House and what he believes is now necessary to create new jobs and solve the country’s economic crisis.

New secret film could mean Sarah Palin is running

A new documentary film about Sarah Palin, filmed in great secrecy by a conservative filmmaker, will premiere in June and looks like the start of a future presidential campaign by the former Republican Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate 2008.

The film’s existence is revealed by Scott Conroy at RealClearPolitics, a leading political news site, whose report tonight describes at length the content of the two-hour film, “The Undefeated”.

The film will likely premiere in Iowa where the first primary election battle takes place in January next year. The film will then be shown in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, all primary states.

“This film is a call to action for a campaign like 1976: Reagan vs. the establishment,” said filmmaker Stephen K. Bannon to RealClearPolitics. “Let’s have a good old-fashioned brouhaha.”

The film portrays Palin as “the only conservative leader who can both build on the legacy of the Reagan Revolution and bring the ideals of the tea party movement to the Oval Office.”

If the film means the start of a Palin presidential election campaign, it would mean a drastically new situation for the Republican party, which is right now dominated by confusion and lack of enthusiasm for any of the present candidates after four possible candidates decided not to run.

And for those who are still thinking about running, like former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, a Palin candidacy might make them decide not to run. For although Palin is controversial and polarizing, even within her own party, she is by far the best known of all the Republican candidates, with strong support from the Tea Party movement, and she would likely be very had to beat.

Obama takes nothing for granted

Next year’s presidential election campaign kicked off on Monday, when President Obama via an elegant little video on launched his re-election bid under the headline “Are you in?”

“This campaign is just kicking off. We’re opening up offices, unpacking boxes, and starting a
conversation with supporters like you to help shape our path to victory.  2012 begins now, and this is where you say you’re in.”

It endes with, “It depends on us.”

It is nineteen months until the election and it may seem early to get started now. But in the perpetual American election campaign it’s not, for it takes a lot of money, upwards of one billion dollars is said to be the Obama campaign’s goal, to win.

It’s just that Obama has no opponents yet.   A Republican panel discussion with all the candidates was planned at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley in California later this spring, but it has been postponed until the fall for lack of candidates. Everyone seems to be waiting, except those who have already pulled out.  All this is also of course a reflection on a sitting President’s traditional advantages, which for Obama also means, that with no challengers within the Democratic party, he has the added advantage of not having to wage an expensive and grueling primary campaign.

So, right not, we have to be content with a lot of speculations about various more or less familiar names as possible Republican candidates. How, said an old friend and democratic activist recently, can anyone of them have a chance against Obama!

I ask myself the same question, but, I hasten to add, we know from experience, from 1968 with Lyndon Johnson, 1976 with Jimmy Carter, and 1992 with Bill Clinton, that a lot can happen in an American election campaign. It seems that Obama does not want to take anything for granted.


Sarah Palin – a fading star

Sarah Palin is still very much in the news, but her star seems to be fading, judging from the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll this week.

58 per cent of the polled Republicans are favorable towards Palin, compared with 88 percent immediately after the 2008 elections and 70 percent half a year ago.  Palin’s negative numbers have at the same time increased and are now record high, or 37 percent.

That negative figure is significantly higher than for any other potential Republican presidential candidates. Still, she has 2.7 million “likes” on Facebook, earns big money as a Fox News commentator and hundreds of thousands of dollars in his speeches around the country. Since she stepped down as Alaska’s governor, she has become rich.

Palin is a political phenomenon, no doubt about it. But people either love her or hate her, and she has become more polarizing than any other leading Republican.  Will she run for president? No one knows.  On InTrade, the prediction market, only six per cent think she will run.

If she does run, Palin will join a long list of possible republican presidential candidates. And although the campaign has not yet even started, already, Carl Cannon wrote recently on RealClearPolitics, “the nascent 2012 campaign trail is littered with gaffes, slips of the tongue and lapses in historical and geographical knowledge.” He cites among many examples mistakes by Palin about Ronald Reagan, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s assertion that the American Revolution began in New Hampshire, and Mike Huckabee’s claim that Obama spent his youth in Kenya. These gaffes and mistakes are not trivial, wrote Cannon.