Will Barack Obama Be the Democratic Nominee?

Will Barack Obama be the Democratic Nominee? That seems like a strange question. It’s natural to assume that a first term President is the automatic nominee of his party in the next go-round.

But the odds are surprisingly high that Barack Obama will NOT be the Democratic nominee. And, the odds are even higher that the Republicans will choose a candidate who would be overwhelmingly favored to win Florida, and that person’s name isn’t Romney, Huckabee, or Palin.

Most of this speculative forecast focuses on Obama’s situation, but the name of the Republican emerges before we finish.

“History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” – Mark Twain

The year was 1968. There was a Democrat sitting in the White House. Just four years earlier, Lyndon Johnson had been elected in what was then the fourth-most lopsided election in U.S. history. In March ’68, Johnson did what was inconceivable only months before. He dropped out of the race.

He did so because, just a few weeks earlier, Senator Eugene McCarthy shocked the political establishment with 42% of the New Hampshire Primary vote, compared to Johnson’s 49% (McCarthy also secured 20 of the 24 primary votes available in the New Hampshire primary).

Eugene McCarthy ran the first modern media primary campaign, thanks to the support of five rich liberals including Stewart Mott. And he had a celebrity entourage helping build his name recognition, starting with Paul Newman.

McCarthy’s base and his support came because he was the anti-Vietnam War candidate. Several months before the New Hampshire primary, anti-war politicians and leaders, McCarthy among them, had tried to persuade New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy to run. Kennedy wanted to be President someday, but thought it would be political suicide to merely wound The Prince. But just four days after McCarthy’s New Hampshire success, the opportunistic Kennedy got in the race.

By June 5, 1968, McCarthy was in third place in the delegate count. The candidate in second place, Robert Kennedy, was dead — the victim of an assassin’s bullet. Vice President Hubert Humphrey was in the lead, and would win the nomination, but lose the general election.

So what does that story have to do with 2012? We’ll get to that in a moment.

But remember, first, that history rhymes, and flash back to the year, 1998. After those mid-term elections, Speaker Newt Gingrich was forced to resign his seat. Just four years earlier he was the Moses of a party that had been in the minority, in the House of Representatives, for 40 consecutive years. What dramatically terrible thing would cause the party to turn on the man who had led them out of the minority desert?

Sure, the GOP lost some seats, but they didn’t lose the majority. This was a case of, “What have you done for me lately?”

Political coalitions are brittle things. Political loyalty is mythical. It’s always a matter of, “What have you done for me lately?”

Barack Obama cannot count on the Democrats to continue to support him if things go badly in the upcoming, mid-term elections this November. And as it stands now, it appears they will go very badly. (As you can already see, my projection differs from Mr. Hanley’s.)

Consider that the Democrats hold a ten seat (swing) majority, in the Senate. Republican wins in any of these Democratic seats, individually speaking, would be unsurprising — California, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wisconsin. In other words, the Democrat majority could be narrowed to two or three seats. Filibusters of the President’s agenda will increase by roughly a multiplier of the number of these seats won by Republicans.

In the House, Republicans need to gain 39 seats to win a majority. This now appears within the realm of possibility. The Cook Political Report labels 71 districts as possible challenger upsets, 64 of which are Democratic-controlled at the moment. 40 of these were picked up by Democrats, during their surge, in either 2006 or 2008. The majority of these districts voted for Bush in 2004, and many of them went to McCain in 2008. But incumbency is a very powerful force, and it’s probably more reasonable to believe that the Republicans will pick up 20-25 seats. (I’m not making a prediction about the House, just reporting the details.)

Like ’98, the Republicans probably won’t reclaim majorities, but they will deplete the overwhelming margins Democrats now enjoy.

Who will be the scapegoat? My nominee, obviously, is Barack Obama. And this will be the only nomination he gets in this story.

Here’s some advanced political science for you. Because the Democrats have held a solid majority, Barack Obama has largely gotten his way. When he doesn’t, which is rare, it is because his own party said, “No.” The amount of time it took to pass the healthcare bill, for example, was because they couldn’t get enough Democrat votes. You’d never know that if you relied on mainstream political reporting — especially from television. Right now, Republicans could vote with near unanimity, consistently, and still lose, routinely.

Obama’s inability to “keep his troops in-line” on Capitol Hill will be the first real sign that Democratic insiders believe he’s a 2012 liability.

The Obama campaign was premised on an almost messianic Change — particularly in foreign policy and civil liberties — as well as Hope, in civil rights. Instead, Change is, largely, a continuation of the unpopular policies, against which Obama campaigned, along with the NEW expansion of ANOTHER war, that seems to historically rhyme with Vietnam. And, to pick just one example of dissapointment, there’s no Hope coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave on ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Who will be the next Eugene McCarthy? It’s too soon to tell. But many Democrats, including Speaker Pelosi, who will have her own job to save, will blame Barack Obama for not being sufficiently “progressive.” If you read left-leaning websites now, you’ll start to see lots of comments like . . .

“…Obama’s handlers deserve blame… They are caught in a defensive posture trying to find a middle ground that will barely get Obama re-elected in 2012. In the process, they are abandoning Progressives on multiple issues and not taking strong ACTION…. Obama needs to grow a pair.”

And the Congressional races, especially Colorado and Nevada, will cause lots of Democrats to take a hard look at the Electoral Map. Some opportunistic, progressive politician will do the analysis you’re about to read and realize he or she can make a case for why Barack Obama cannot be the standard-bearer of their party in 2012.

Barack Obama had 365 electoral votes in 2008, winning some unlikely states with high levels of turnout. 270 votes are needed to win. Looking at Obama, 2012 . . .

1) Eight states that went Democrat in 2000, 2004, and 2008, are expected to yield a census-adjusted loss of 6 net votes.
Adjusted total = 359.

2) Six states that went Republican in those same three elections are projected to deliver a census-adjusted loss of 7 more net votes.
Adjusted total = 352.

3) Three states that provided 39 electoral votes to Obama were GOP states that he won narrowly. He won’t win them again.
Adjusted total = 313.

4) Three more states are toss-up, or “bubble” states (New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado). These states account for 20 electoral votes. If Democrats lose Colorado and Nevada Senate races in 2010, that would seem to indicated that Obama’s bubble is about to be burst. (BTW, Iowa is also considered a toss-up state, and the census is expected to make it a 6 vote state, but it leans Democratic in my opinion, and I have not counted it in favor of the GOP in this analysis).
Adjusted total = 293.

5) That leaves the bell-weather states. These two states determine who will be the next President. The winner of them wins the White House. Since 1996, they’ve both gone to the winner. In fact, historically, with only two exceptions since 1896, the winner of Ohio wins the election. But Florida has emerged, since 2000, as the biggest prize of all. (Unless the Republicans gain Iowa) Ohio cannot secure a Republican victory without Florida coming too. The Buckeye State is likely to be reduced to 18 electoral votes in ’12, and that would still leave the Democrat with 275 votes — enough to win. Still, Democrats are projected to lose ground in Ohio in 2010, where their governor’s seat is up for grabs. But Florida, which is projected to have 28 votes, could become Obama’s undoing, all by itself. Adjusted total = 247.

If you want to boil this analysis down and see it in action soon, watch the Senate races in Nevada, Colorado, and Florida, and the statewide races in Ohio, on election night, 2010. The handwriting will be on the wall if the Democrats lose these.

Still, all of this remains speculative until a relatively unknown, but still respected progressive Democrat (Dennis Kucinich won’t count, because he lacks stature), starts making the rounds to Iowa and New Hampshire. Or, perhaps he could be known. Can Howard Dean be motivated to make another run?

I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a strong Republican, who would be heavily favored to win Florida, start visiting Iowa and New Hampshire. I think his name is Jeb Bush, the former Governor of the Sunshine State.

But the Democratic Party mainstream won’t want the progressive candidate to be their nominee. In fact, Obama would probably still be able to defeat the upstart to his Left. The role for this uber-liberal will be to weaken Obama.

Then, just like 1968, party leaders will turn to a New York Senator (albeit former), who is reluctant to run against the sitting Democrat, until she sees that his weakness is clearly evident. That Democrat is Hillary Clinton, and she is every bit as opportunistic as Robert Kennedy was. Yet Hillary also plays the role of Hubert Humphrey in this tale, since she’d be the establishment shield against a progressive upstart. And she is, perhaps, the best candidate the Democrats could choose in the fight for Florida.

Thus, if Hillary Clinton resigns her post as Secretary of State and visits Iowa, that will be the third real sign that Democratic insiders believe Barack Obama is no longer the winning horse in the 2012 race — that it’s time to find a new politician to ride to victory.

And if she enters the race, it is a matter of time before Barack Obama either drops out or loses. Sticking it out and fighting with her doesn’t bode well for the sitting President. Not only did Humphrey end up losing in 1968, but then-President Jimmy Carter, who stayed and defeated Kennedy in the battle for the 1980 nomination, lost his electoral battle to Ronald Reagan.

The first two signs — Capitol Hill troops out of line and a progressive opportunist making waves — will be visible to all of us, no later than April, 2011. Stay tuned.

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29 Responses to Will Barack Obama Be the Democratic Nominee?

  1. Pingback: Will Barack Obama Be the Democratic Nominee? | The One Best Way -Political Fund USA

  2. pinky says:


    Good luck on prognosticating Obama’s failure. Sounds like all the campaign rhetoric that said he could win in 2008.

    But, he won.

    Time will tell the story.

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  5. What’s up Jim good to see you here. Interesting post but I am leaning more toward the 94 scenario where there are massive losses in the House and Senate but then the economy picks up and all is forgiven and he gets elected. I also cannot see any Bush get elected any time soon. But people probably said that when Poppa lost too.

    I know you had some issues with Ron Paul last time around would you be supporting him in 2012?

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  10. Aidan says:

    This is inane. The determination to equate Afghanistan (or Iraq) with Vietnam does not mean that 1968 will repeat itself. A convenient historical analogy does not mean that history will repeat itself exactly.

    The assertion that Barack Obama’s Congressional majority has led to him getting exactly what he wants does not stand up to basic scrutiny; you cite the compromises he had to make with the more conservative members within his own party on the health care fight, as if that was not the defining victory of his presidency and the 111th Congress thus far. The two most important pieces of legislation passed during his time in office have been the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank, the former of which required long deliberations and many compromises with the more conservative members (Nelson, Stupak, etc.), and while the latter was opposed by Russ Feingold from the left, compromises with moderate Republicans (Brown, Snowe, Collins) are what got the bill passed. When Obama has run into problems enacting his agenda, it has usually been from the right. Just because many progressives feel disillusioned with certain administration policies does not mean that they will jump ship come 2012, and it certainly doesn’t mean they’ll be able to find a challenger who can put up any kind of fight in a presidential primary. Jonathan Bernstein wrote a good piece back in February (http://plainblogaboutpolitics.blogspot.com/2010/02/re-nomination.html) noting that the only two serious challenges to renomination came against Ford and Carter, with both challenges coming from the ideological extremes and from longstanding leaders of the respective parties. There is no one in the Democratic Party who could mount such a challenge.

    The amount of time needed to pass the health care bill was not indicative of Obama’s weakness; the Affordable Care Act accomplished a defining liberal goal that had eluded the Democratic Party for the entirety of the 20th century. There was no way a bill was going to be passed that did not go through some sort of compromise process with the moderate and conservative wings of the party, especially in light of the amount of seats gained in 2006 and 2008 in normally Republican districts. He has met some resistance on other aspects of his domestic agenda from moderate/conservative Democrats whose support he (not that he did it alone, obviously) was able to rally for health care reform. The idea that a conservative challenger would be able to defeat a sitting president in a Democratic primary is insane.

  11. buddyglass says:

    For what its worth, fivethirtyeight.com puts the over/under on Democratic seats in the Senate at 53.5. Unfortunately he doesn’t project the House numbers.

    Political futures markets (intrade.com) put the over/under on the senate at 53 seats for the Democrats. So they largely agree with fivethirtyeight. The futures markets expect the Republicans to gain 40 seats in the House, which would give them a slim majority.

    On the simple question of “who controls the house after the midterms”, the futures markets say the Republicans have a 56% chance.

    With regard to the Democratic nominee for president in 2011, Obama comes in at 82%. Clinton and Bayh are the only others with any significant percentage.

  12. buddyglass says:

    Err, obviously that should be 2012.

  13. buddyglass says:

    I wrote in a vote for him in 2008, since I’m from an overwhelmingly red state and my vote didn’t matter anyway. I wouldn’t do so again. I voted for Obama in the Democratic primary since McCain had pretty much sewn up the Republican nomination by that point and I dislike Hillary that much.

    Since in 2012 the situation will probably be reversed, i.e. Dem. nomination sewn up and Republican nomination still in play, I will probably vote in the Republican primary. Maybe for Mitch Daniels if he hasn’t dropped out by the time my primary rolls around.

  14. James K says:

    That’s an interesting story Jim, I’m not sure I buy it, but it’s plausible. Of course, I’m used to parliamentary politics where a leader can disappear overnight (look at Kevin Rudd).

    Of course I stand to gain a bit over USD 200 from a bet 4 years early if Obama loses the nomination, so it may just be wishful thinking on my part.

  15. What about the possibility that Obama might, in Mr. Babka’s scenario, co-opt whoever runs against him for the nomination by giving him or her the vice presidency?

  16. James Hanley says:

    Hooray, Jim’s back! Even if he does begin by disagreeing with me. 😉

    I would begin by warning that in ’48 and ’96 everyone knew the president was a lame duck. Ooops. I think Obama has more staying power than people expect.

    But I appreciate Jim’s analysis of the electoral college changes likely to be caused by the census. That’s something I hadn’t gotten around to looking at yet. But at a glance, putting #1 and #2 together, it looks like he’s double-counting some electoral votes. I’m not sure he is, but since they’re a fixed number, any loss from one state automatically equals a gain in some other state. It could just be a matter for clarification, rather than an error.

    There’s also a long-standing question I’ve had about the electoral effects of the demographic shift in the U.S. I know Republican who observe the population shift to the south and sunbelt, traditionally conservative states, and assume that the resulting gains in electoral votes will mean a near-permanent Republican presidency. But that assumes all the people who are moving are conservative, or if liberal are enough to add electoral votes without tipping the ideological balance. I think that remains to be seen, and there is some evidence against it, such as the Democratic gains in Colorado and Virginia. But all that remains to be seen.

    I personally doubt Clinton will challenge Obama, but I wholly agree that if she starts appearing in Iowa (and New Hampshire), with or without resigning as SecState, it will get interesting. But I think at best she’d manage to do a Reagan to Obama’s Ford, with him retaining the nomination but being fatally harmed for the general election. And that may be the reason she doesn’t–if she thinks about it she may get talked out of it by people concerned for her long-range reputation.

    But Jim has certainly laid out the thoughtful counter-argument to my earlier argument, and provided food for thought.

  17. jimbabka says:

    Pierre, I think there is zero chance Clinton ends up on Obama’s ticket.

    James, to be clear, I don’t think Obama’s a lame duck, and I think the response of the commenters here, as well as my presentation of these ideas on two radio shows and in several conversations, have convinced me that most folks think I’m crazy. He’s not a lame duck, ala Truman and Clinton. He’s everybody’s prohibitive (default) favorite for the Democratic nomination. That’s what made this blog post worth writing.

    Further, I believe that Clinton will be very hesitant to run against Obama, for the reasons just described (by Mr. Hanley), and will jump in only if she sees some progressive really tenderize him. That’s why Robert Kennedy’s behavior in ’68 was relevant to this story. One dare not settling for wounding The Prince — the blow must be mortal. Every good political opportunist understands that, and Mrs. Clinton is no exception.

    As for my numbers, I think I got them correct. But math was my worst subject, which is why I became a political science major.

  18. James Hanley says:


    Definitely not crazy.

    As to math, I changed our requirements so that the political science major requires statistics. My students haven’t exactly hoisted me on their shoulders and given me three cheers for that. 😉

  19. D.A. Ridgely says:

    I suspect that Obama will not only be renominated barring some new, major domestic or foreign crisis, but that he’ll sail to renomination. Whether he wins a second term or not, on the other hand, depends both on whom the Republicans run and on how the economy is perceived by the public to be doing by then.

    That said, would Hillary Clinton make a move if she detected any credible chance of getting the nomination? Sure. In the first place, there’s no love lost between Clinton and Obama even now. Yes, RFK and LBJ hated each other, too, but unlike Robert Kennedy in 1964, Hillary is at the end of her likely political career on grounds of age at this point, so it’s pretty much 2012 or never.

    As for progressive opportunists, one or more is always lurking in the wings. I can think of hundreds of men and women who perpetually think they’d make a better president than the incumbent and could be conned into thinking they’re electable, all of whom work just down the avenue from the White House. And given my overall opinion of the Clintons, I wouldn’t be in the slightest bit surprised if they are not already in secret preliminary discussions with several to see if one can, indeed, be induced to take Obama on in the early primaries and test the waters.

  20. James K says:

    Statsitics should be compulsory for everyone. In this day and age the inability to interpret statistics makes you a sitting duck for every BS artist with access to Excel.

  21. James Hanley says:

    James K,

    Re: Statistics. Not only that, but I think too many people lack basic familiarity with probability, which leads them to think dying in a terrorist attack is more likely than drowning in their bathtub, etc.

  22. Pinky says:

    Re: drowning in their bathtub…
    A stretch; but, a fair description of some conservative worries..

    So, who is responsible to help them have more reasonable thoughts?

  23. Mark Boggs says:

    You guys obviously aren’t aware of the Muslim Day at Six Flags, are you?

    I’ll be showering from now on, thank you.

  24. AMW says:

    “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

    Indeed, and here’s how it’s rhyming this time around. Your first post at PL was a political prognostication regarding the (’08) presidential election. My first comment to you on PL was to say you couldn’t be more wrong. QED.

    Good to have you posting here, though. I see you guys took the keys away from DAR. That is, indeed, the one best way.

  25. AMW says:

    Alright, so apparently you can’t just link directly to Obama’s nomination price on Intrade. Ignore my QED.

    [Kicks pebble]

  26. James Hanley says:


    Your memory is frightening.

    But to correct you, DAR does have keys to the house. He’s just not been home much lately.

  27. Mark Boggs says:

    As a wittier commenter than me put it on another site: “Yes, Muslims enjoying cotton candy and roller coasters – what could be more threatening?”

  28. jimbabka says:

    Political prognostication is for fun, and it’s only fun when it’s risky. I wouldn’t bother to post a boring prediction. Anyone could do that. And my record is still as good as your typical Wall Street Newsletter guru.

    Interestingly, everyone forgets how risky the prediction was, after it’s become self-evident. Thank God for comments!

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