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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Why Podemos will defeat the Spanish Socialists

A new alliance on the Spanish Left will be stronger than the sum of its parts.

On Saturday morning, on a palm-tree lined promenade in the small city of Badalona in eastern Catalonia, a 38-year-old woman named Mar García Puig fanned herself with her speaking notes after taking her turn on the stage.

Until six months ago, Puig was a literary editor with no professional experience in politics apart from attending demonstrations and rallies. Then, in December, her life was transformed twice over. In the national election, she won a parliamentary seat for En Comú Podem, the Catalan regional ally of the anti-austerity party Podemos. Four hours after she learned of her victory, Puig gave birth to twins.

Fortunately Puig’s husband, who is a teacher, was able to take paternity leave so that she could take up her seat. In parliament, Puig “felt like an alien”, she told me over coffee. As it turned out, she had to give up her seat prematurely anyway – along with all the other Spanish MPs – when repeated attempts to form a government failed. So now, in the lead-up to Spain’s first repeat election of the modern era, to be held on 26 June, Puig was on the campaign trail once more in a drive to win a parliamentary seat.

The December general election was as historic as it was inconclusive, ushering in a novel political era in Spain and leaving the country with the most fragmented parliament in its history. Fed up with corruption, austerity and a weak recovery from the global financial crisis, voters punished the mainstream parties, ending the 40-year dominance of the conservative Partido Popular (People’s Party) and the centre-left PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), which have held power since the death of General Franco. Neither group was able to win an absolute majority as new parties from both ends of the political spectrum garnered support from disenchanted voters.

On the left, Podemos, which was only founded in March 2014 by the ponytailed political scientist Pablo Iglesias, won 20 per cent of the vote. Ciudadanos (Citizens), formed in Catalonia a decade ago and occupying the centre left or centre right, depending on which analyst you talk to, secured a 14 per cent share.

Despite having four months to form a coalition government, the two biggest political parties could not reach a deal. The People’s Party, which had implemented a harsh austerity package over the past five years, recorded its worst electoral performance since 1989, losing 16 percentage points. It still won the most votes, however, and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was the first leader to be asked by King Felipe VI to form a government.

By the end of January, Rajoy conceded defeat after the PSOE refused to join his “grand coalition”. The Socialists then failed in their own attempt to form a government, leading the king to dissolve parliament and call a fresh election.

Despite the inconvenience of having to campaign nationwide once again – and being away from her twins – Mar García Puig’s enthusiasm for her new career is undiminished. “In Spain there is a window of opportunity,” she said. “There is a receptiveness to politics that there wasn’t before.”

When the repeat elections were called, some questioned whether Podemos and its regional allies could mobilise its supporters to the same extent as in December. Yet Puig believes that the party’s appeal has grown further in the six months that the country has been without a government. “We are still new and Podemos has this freshness – it can still make people join,” she told me.

The following day, as the church bells rang at noon in the Basque city of Bilbao, crowds gathered for another rally. For protection against the sun, Podemos supporters had covered their heads with purple triangular paper hats displaying the party name as it will appear on the ballot paper: Unidos Podemos, or “United We Can”.

In May, Podemos entered into an alliance with Izquierda Unida (United Left), the radical left-wing party that includes the Communist Party of Spain, and which won 3 per cent of the vote in December. Izquierda Unida is headed by Alberto Garzón, a 30-year-old Marxist economist who, according to a poll by the state-run CIS research institute, is the most highly rated party leader in Spain. Unlike Podemos’s Iglesias, who can fire up a crowd and is seen by some as divisive, Garzón is a calm and articulate politician who appeals to disaffected voters.

Nagua Alba, who at 26 is Podemos’s youngest MP, said the new alliance would be stronger than the sum of its parts, because Spain’s voting system punishes smaller parties when it comes to allocating seats in parliament. “It [the alliance] will attract all those people that aren’t convinced yet. It shows we can all work together,” Alba said.

As part of the agreement with Podemos, Izquierda Unida has agreed to drop its demands for a programme of renationalisation and withdrawing Spain from Nato. The alliance is campaigning on a platform of reversing Rajoy’s labour reforms, removing the national debt ceiling, opposing the TTIP trade deal, and increasing the minimum wage to €900 a month. A Unidos Podemos government would attempt to move the EU’s economic policy away from austerity and towards a more expansionist stance, joining a broader effort that involves Greece, Italy and Portugal. It is also committed to offering the Catalans a referendum on independence, a move that the mainstream parties strongly oppose.

The latest polls suggest that Unidos Podemos will become Spain’s second-biggest party, with 26 per cent of the vote, behind Rajoy’s Popular Party. The Socialist Party looks poised to fall into third place, with 21 per cent, and Ciudadanos is expected to hold its 14 per cent share. If the polls are accurate, the PSOE will face a difficult choice that highlights how far its stock has fallen. It can choose to enter as a junior partner into a coalition with the insurgent left, which has politically outmanoeuvred it. Or it could decide to prop up a Partido Popular-led right-wing coalition, serving as a constraint on power. 

This article first appeared in the 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain