Regardless of who the Republicans pick to go up against President Obama, the 2012 general election will pit two very well funded politicians against each other with the aid and support of small armies of supporters, surrogates and volunteers (not to mention deep pocketed fundraisers). Here are 5 people to keep your eye on as we get closer to Election Day:
Karl Rove. You thought "Turd Blossom" went away when W slithered out of office? Not so. In fact, Rove's influence over the modern Republican Party is if anything, greater than it was when he was performing dark arts out of the West Wing. Rove now oversees American Crossroads and American Crossroads GPS. Two groups, that if you have not heard of them yet, you will soon. Rove now has former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour helping him fundraise what his organization claims will be $240 million for the 2012 cycle. Whether they reach that goal or not, these two groups will be dropping huge sums of negative advertising on President Obama and vulnerable down-ballot Democrats. Rove is a master of the negative attack ad and slash and burn politics that turned a decorated war hero into an effete flip flopper and an environmentalist and forward thinking computer wonk into a soulless beta male.
Joe Biden. Sheriff Joe has been the do-everything guy in the Obama Administration. If Dick Cheney re-defined the role of Vice President in a way that was dangerously undemocratic, Biden has elevated his position into an all-around policy troubleshooter and trusted elder statesman role that history will likely look kindly on. He's taken on every tough task the President has asked of him, from keeping an eye on Recovery Act funding to drawing down troops in Iraq and negotiating last year's tax extension. People forget though that when Biden was picked to run with Obama, it was largely to shore up Obama's perceived weakness among so-called "Reagan Democrats" - blue collar folks who are socially conservative and went for Hillary in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio during the 2008 Democratic primary. In 2012, Biden will continue wearing two hats. On the "official" side, he will likely be leaned on in any negotiations with Congress over everything from the payroll tax cut extension to the FY13 budget, and on the "re-election" side, he will be deployed to the Rust Belt to trumpet the Administration's commitment to manufacturing, union rights and protecting public workers.
Scott Walker, John Kasich & Rick Scott. Speaking of the Rust Belt (and Florida), I am counting these three deeply unpopular Governors as one because they have, in their own ways, mobilized opposition to them in ways Democrats could not have foreseen when each was voted into office in 2010. In Wisconsin, Walker will be subject to a recall vote sometime next year, offering Democrats a great trial run to mobilize in advance of November. In Ohio, unions took the lead in overturning a union stripping law passed under Kasich's signature. In Florida, Scott is just plain unpopular, having lavished corporations with tax cuts as he cut social services. It goes without saying that winning these 3 states is critical to both parties and my guess is you won't see too many photo ops that include the GOP nominee and any of these elected officials. Whether Obama and the Democrats will be able to tie the national GOP to the deeply unpopular policies these three gentlemen have passed will go a long way to deciding who wins the election.
Angela Merkel & Bibi Netanyahu. Ok, I'm cheating again, but while there are many foreign policy hotspots, Germany's pre-eminent role in the European debt crisis and Israel's flirtation with attacking Iran stand out as "known knowns" (to paraphrase Rummy) 1A and 1B for the Obama team. If Germany is able to facilitate a soft landing for Greece (and possibly Spain, Portugal and Italy) that makes the European recession shallow, or perhaps even results in a modest rebound, that will accrue to our economy's benefit. If not, we could be in trouble, or at best, not experience the economic growth we otherwise would. Obviously, the former outcome would be quite helpful to the President; the latter, to his opponent.
How Israel responds to the continued Iranian push for nuclear weapons is a total wild card. If United Nations sanctions choke off Iran's exports and force them to the negotiating table, perhaps the threat dissipates. If scientists continue to mysteriously die by car bombing or computer systems mysteriously become infected with computer viruses, perhaps the threat dissipates. But those are big "ifs" and the drumbeat from Republicans to get tougher on Iran has been a hallmark of their primary season. It is also a way for them to try and mitigate one of Obama's strengths - a muscular foreign policy that is difficult to criticize.
Antonin Scalia. I wrote previously about the decision the Supreme Court will issue, probably around the third week in June, about the Affordable Care Act. (You can read it here: http://scarylawyerguy.blogspot.com/2011/12/my-what-expansive-commerce-clause-you.html). If Justice Scalia rules, as I think he will, to uphold the individual mandate, it will be both devastating for Republicans and an enormous vote of affirmation for President Obama. To have the role model for "strict constructionism" (even though he's only that way when it's convenient for him) uphold "Obamacare" will not take the issue off the table entirely but it will, if Romney is the nominee (and not inclined to push the issue since the national model was based on one he helped pass in Massachusetts), move it into the periphery.
Those are my five. Who are yours?
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