I've been fascinated with politics since I was 9 years old, which coincided with the 1984 election (first the Mondale vs. Hart battle, then the general election). One thing that I've learned is that THINGS CHANGE. Let's do a quick rundown of the elections since 1988 and look how things get volatile during an election:
1988 - Gary Hart was the front runner after a strong showing in 1984 but had to drop out because of his little fling with Donna Rice on Bimini. And although Dick Gephardt won the Iowa campaign, Michael Dukakis, the very uncharismatic Governor of Massachusetts was the Democratic nominee. He had a double digit lead over George Bush I but eventually lost by quite a bit.
1992 - Despite losing both Iowa (to Tom Harkin) and New Hampshire (to Paul Tsongas), Bill Clinton was the nominee for the Democrats. He eventually was able to defeat George Bush I, who pissed away a 90% approval rating in 1991 (about 40 points higher than Obama's at a similar time point) because the economy worsened (which seems to be happening now, based on current economic statistics) and he raised taxes (something else Obama has done). Also, there was a point where H. Ross Perot was the front runner, albeit by the smallest of margins.
1996 - Admittedly a rather boring election where the early frontrunners for both parties one (Clinton, of course, was the incumbent).
2000 - I remember seeing polls that showed Gore having a several point lead over George Bush II, just weeks before the election. I do realize that many people view Gore as the rightful winner but that ignores the Florida recount completely, which was in Bush's favor as well as the fact that Florida was called by the major networks before the polls in the Republican dominated panhandle were closed, siphoning off votes.
2004 - At first Gore was considered the front runner. Then, remember Howard Dean was the front runner through much of the second half of 2003? He had tremendous momentum, outraising everybody else in the field. However, thanks to going completely negative in Iowa, he ended up losing that state and even his neighbor to the East, New Hampshire (probably in part because of the Dean Scream).
2008 - This was a crazy-ass election. The two early front runners, Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton, both of whom had very large leads in national polls, lost in the primaries. Hillary's loss was close, Rudy's was not even close. Also I found this article about a poll conducted in August 2007 for both the Democratic and GOP fields:
The survey, taken Friday through Sunday, puts Clinton at 48% — up 8 percentage points from three weeks ago — and Obama at 26%, down 2 points...Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani at 33%, former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson at 21%, Arizona Sen. John McCain at 16% and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney at 8%.
The eventual nominee for the Democrats was down 22% and the eventual Republican was down 17%, just 5 months before Iowa! So I'm sorry, Obama being up a smidge above 50% and a few people declining to enter the GOP race is no reason for the Democrats to be smug about this. I shouldn't have to even mention the fact that three of the higher profile Republicans not running, didn't have a chance for the nomination anyway. The GOP was not going to nominate Huckabee, who is not a believer in the free market at all, Trump, who gave heavily to Democrats in the past and even endorsed Obama, or Haley Barbour, a Southern insider who probably would get little support outside the South. The only loss was Mitch Daniels, who might have been strong or might not have. He wasn't completely trusted by social or economic conservatives because of his talk of a social "truce" and his desire to avoid "wedge issues" (i.e. he might not have been willing to fight to reform entitlements). I know people are disappointed with Paul Ryan and Chris Christie not running but I think it just comes down to this, neither has actually accomplished anything yet. They both know it, they are just not as arrogant as The One, who ran for President before actually accomplishing anything or gaining ANY administrative experience. Note that Paul Ryan just became head of the Budget Committee this year and Chris Christie would be a much stronger candidate if his turnaround plan for New Jersey actually works. Just having charisma is how we ended up with the incompetent schmuck we have as President now. The GOP already has two high quality (in the general election sense) candidates running right now, Mitt Romney, who I might not like but is polished and popular with non Republicans, and Tim Pawlenty, a two term Conservative Governor of a Blue State.
In case you are still drinking the proverbial kool-aid and think Obama is unbeatable, let me point out a couple of things that could still go wrong for him:
- The economy. Recent indicators, such as the Empire Manufacturing, Richmond Fed Index and the Philadelphia Fed Index were all disappointing. Let us also not forget that GDP for Q1 was only 1.8%, a very anemic level considering how loose fiscal and monetary policy both are. And Fiscal and monetary policy can't get any looser than they are now, chances are they will probably get tighter in the next year. We can't sustain $1.5 TRILLION dollar deficits every year and the Federal Reserve can't keep pumping money into the market, both need to get tighter for the purposes of sanity and that will likely have a negative impact on the economy, at least in the short term (long term, its better if we get our house in order as soon as we can). Also, let's not forget about the possibility of another financial crisis. If Greece defaults or soft defaults or "reprofiles", that will be a major negative event which will eat up the capital of many European banks. It could also cause a cascade effect as many other sovereigns get dumped. I wouldn't be shocked if some money market funds "break the buck" again. It could be Lehman all over.
- War in the middle east. We all know that foreign policy is not even close to Obama's strong suit, from the mundane (giving the UK PM DVD's from the wrong region as a gift) to the complex (completely messing up the peace process so much that the parties refuse to speak to one another, they were speaking under W after all). Given the recent "Arab Spring" this next war could involve more of the neighbors who will want to satisfy their populations. Say hello to $200 oil if that happens and whether or not it is Obama's actual fault, he will get blamed.
- Rising healthcare costs. Historically rising healthcare costs have not been blamed on the President but then historically, they also haven't been their fault. Obamacare's insurance "reforms" such as the requirement of insurance companies to allow "kids" to stay on their parents plan to age 26, and the banning of pre-existing condition exclusions have caused the expenses of the insurance companies to increase which has been passed along to the consumer. Most premiums have gone up 25-50% in just one year, and are likely to go up again come January 2012. Companies are doing two things to deal with this, changing to lower quality plans and forcing their employees to pay a higher percentage of the premiums. Neither of which have been good news for those of us who are currently insured. Don't be surprised if this becomes a big issue next year.
- What have you done for me lately syndrome. Killing Osama was definitely a victory for Obama. But election history is full of voters wondering "what have you done for me lately". As Obama is already in campaign mode and seems to no longer be interested in actually governing (note his absence, for the most part, from the budget debate) the chances that he will do something major that people will like between now and election day is minor.