Are the swing states embracing Obama again?

President opens up lead against all Republican candidates in key battlegrounds.

The re-election of Barack Obama may well be back on. After watching the economy tank and the president struggling to make his promised sweeping reforms, many American swing voters were in a state of intense deliberation -- Obama 2.0 or something new?

But the economic picture is improving - and while jobs continue to be created and unemployment falls, the Republicans are involved in bitter exchanges and political gaffes, leaving Obama's opinion ratings continually improving.

Dana Milbank recently wrote in the Washington Post that:

While Romney embraces the birther billionaire Donald Trump, he has ceded to Obama the political center. The day after Romney indelicately announced that he was "not concerned about the very poor," Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast about his affection for the Rev. Billy Graham and about "the biblical call to care for the least of these -- for the poor; for those at the margins of our society.

It now seems that the Obama campaign is gaining momentum in the areas that matter most -- key swing states.

Fox News conducted a poll late on Wednesday. It analyses voters in 10 battleground states -- Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia and it would seem that in those states, which are key to his chances of re-election, he is performing better than the Republican alternatives.

Dana Blanton at Fox News explains:

The swing-state voters back Obama over Romney by 8 percentage points and Santorum by 9 points.

Obama tops Paul by 12 points in the poll. Gingrich lags farthest behind Obama, as voters in these key states prefer the president to the former Speaker by 20 points.

Chris Stirewalt adds:

It's getting harder for Republicans to argue that their protracted nomination process isn't doing serious damage to their chances of unseating President Obama in the fall.

The latest FOX News swing state poll has some sobering news for the Republicans. Not only do both of their current frontrunners, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, trail nationally (Romney trails by 5 points in all states, Santorum by 12), but they lose in the 10 key states that are likely to decide the election.

It is arguably Romney's poll demise which is most striking. A few weeks ago Romney appeared to be the the certain winner of the Republican nomination race. The data now suggests a very different story. In states such as Florida, where Republican voters tend to consider themselves as moderates, he does just fine. But among the Republican core voters, he is treated with suspicion. Rick Santorum, who was seen as lagging behind before his recent wins, is now arguably the most viable winner of the GOP race.

On the Guardian website Michael Cohen explains pointing to two polls that paint a bleak picture for Romney and give hope to his Republican rival Rick Santorum:

What should be most daunting for Romney is the Rasmussen and PPP polls track likely voters, rather than simply registered voters. Romney's polling numbers within the GOP remain where they've been for much of the year - around 25-35% support, and rarely much higher.

To beat an incumbent, the stars need to be clearly aligned in one's favor. There is very little to date that suggests this is the case for Mitt Romney.

He remains the Republican candidate who Republicans might support if they have to - but that guy in the sweater vest seems like he might be more fun.

Rob Pollard is a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter @_robpollard

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After Article 50 is triggered, what happens next?

The UK must prepare for years, if not decades, of negotiating. 

Back in June, when Europe woke to the news of Brexit, the response was muted. “When I first emerged from my haze to go to the European Parliament there was a big sign saying ‘We will miss you’, which was sweet,” Labour MEP Seb Dance remembered at a European Parliament event in London. “The German car industry said we don’t want any disruption of trade.”

But according to Dance – best known for holding up a “He’s Lying” sign behind Nigel Farage’s head – the mood has hardened with the passing months.

The UK is seen as demanding. The Prime Minister’s repeated refusal to guarantee EU citizens’ rights is viewed as toxic. The German car manufacturers now say the EU is more important than British trade. “I am afraid that bonhomie has evaporated,” Dance said. 

On 31 March the UK will trigger Article 50. Doing so will end our period of national soul-searching and begin the formal process of divorce. So what next?

The European Parliament will have its say

In the EU, just as in the UK, the European Parliament will not be the lead negotiator. But it is nevertheless very powerful, because MEPs can vote on the final Brexit deal, and wield, in effect, a veto.

The Parliament’s chief negotiator is Guy Verhofstadt, a committed European who has previously given Remoaners hope with a plan to offer them EU passports. Expect them to tune in en masse to watch when this idea is revived in April (it’s unlikely to succeed, but MEPs want to discuss the principle). 

After Article 50 is triggered, Dance expects MEPs to draw up a resolution setting out its red lines in the Brexit negotiations, and present this to the European Commission.

The European Commission will spearhead negotiations

Although the Parliament may provide the most drama, it is the European Commission, which manages the day-to-day business of the EU, which will lead negotiations. The EU’s chief negotiator is Michel Barnier. 

Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He has said of the negotiations: “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

This will be a “deal” of two halves

The Brexit divorce is expected to take 16 to 18 months from March (although this is simply guesswork), which could mean Britain officially Brexits at the start of 2019.

But here’s the thing. The divorce is likely to focus on settling up bills and – hopefully – agreeing a transitional arrangement. This is because the real deal that will shape Britain’s future outside the EU is the trade deal. And there’s no deadline on that. 

As Dance put it: “The duration of that trade agreement will exceed the life of the current Parliament, and might exceed the life of the next as well.”

The trade agreement may look a bit like Ceta

The European Parliament has just approved the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) with Canada, a mammoth trade deal which has taken eight years to negotiate. 

One of the main stumbling points in trade deals is agreeing on similar regulatory standards. The UK currently shares regulations with the rest of the UK, so this should speed up the process.

But another obstacle is that national or regional parliaments can vote against a trade deal. In October, the rebellious Belgian region of Wallonia nearly destroyed Ceta. An EU-UK deal would be far more politically sensitive. 

The only way is forward

Lawyers working for the campaign group The People’s Challenge have argued that it will legally be possible for the UK Parliament to revoke Article 50 if the choice is between a terrible deal and no deal at all. 

But other constitutional experts think this is highly unlikely to work – unless a penitent Britain can persuade the rest of the EU to agree to turn back the clock. 

Davor Jancic, who lectures on EU law at Queen Mary University of London, believes Article 50 is irrevocable. 

Jeff King, a professor of law at University College London, is also doubtful, but has this kernel of hope for all the Remainers out there:

“No EU law scholar has suggested that with the agreement of the other 27 member states you cannot allow a member state to withdraw its notice.”

Good luck chanting that at a march. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.