With early scheduling of primaries, the election season is closer than one thinks. After two years of Barack Obama's presidency, the country remains evenly divided and his re-election is anything but a sure thing. True enough, no Republican has yet declared for the nomination, but that is less important than much of the media is willing to admit. If John Kerry in 2004 could produce a campaign that took George W. Bush to the wire, then anything is possible. Certainly, the timing of the candidacy is not that significant.
For Obama, the problem is stark. He has to arouse enthusiasm, raise huge amounts of cash and recover that magic which propelled him to victory in 2008. Young voters and "hope" driven support will be harder to find in an economy still languishing in a pond of high unemployment. Only John F. Kennedy in 1963 could fully identify with the problems Obama is facing. A charisma machine is hard to rev up twice. And for incumbents, it is next to impossible to appear poetic three years into a presidency.
The math facing Obama is daunting especially in capturing Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Indiana. With the exception of the Tar Heel State, which has an unpopular Democratic governor, all these states are governed by Republicans. Throw in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and Obama's prospects are further dimmed. Going into 2012, the GOP, despite its uninspiring message, enjoys a sizable strategic advantage.
The president could choose to counter by running a "base" oriented campaign, the type Karl Rove ran for Bush against Kerry. That race was, with apologies to the Duke of Wellington, "a damned close run thing." Kerry, who had little charm, managed to come dangerously close to ending Bush's presidency after four years. But Obama is not that kind of candidate and his "base" of liberals simply is not as big as those in the conservative camp. And the keep your fingers crossed, hope to capture the lions share of the finicky independent vote is a long wager.
Now Republicans have done him some favors. The virulence of their attacks have guaranteed that Obama will face no Democratic opposition in the primaries. Add to that the Wisconsin imbroglio, the middle class Democrat will be firmly attached to Obama. He has morphed into Bill Clinton in that he has support as much for the enemies he has made than what he has actually achieved. Yet this incentive can gnaw at the entrails of any idealist. The notion that once again a Democratic administration has to be defended because "it is not as bad" as a Republican presidency might not prove in alluring enough reason to attract the faithful to the polls.
However, Obama could pull a Franklin Roosevelt and execute a mid-course change of direction. After the Supreme Court struck down the National Recovery Act in June 1935, FDR tacked to the left supporting union rights and initiating Social Security. He also attacked Republicans as reactionaries and won a landslide in 1936. But this is risky in 2012 in that Obama has no solid South as did Roosevelt, and class appeals have in recent years had little traction. Or he could get lucky as did Lyndon Johnson when the GOP nominated Barry Goldwater. But 1964 saw a red hot economy sporting a 7 percent rise in GNP and the country was in mourning after the assassination of JFK.
But Obama needs to reinspire the nation and give substance to the appeal. To simply hope that Republicans self-destruct is "faulty plan." He needs to appeal to the "better angels" within the American people and challenge Republican notions of government. Whether he likes it or not, Obama will not win as a small government blue dog. As FDR in 1936 and LBJ in 1964, he will advance a positive message or as Johnson put it, "We Democrats are for a lot of things and against mighty few."