Will Obama Face a Serious Democratic Challenger in 2012?
3:19 PM, Dec 6, 2010 • By JAY COST
Recently, Ed Kilgore took to the pages of the New Republic to say that Obama couldn't be successfully primaried. Writes Kilgore:
Kilgore goes on to suggest other factors that would impede a serious primary challenge: Obama's continued high approval among self-identified Democrats, the racial politics of the Democratic Party (especially Obama's strong support from African-Americans), the lack of a "galvanizing" issue, and the absence of a potentially strong primary challenger.
My "off the cuff" reaction to this is that there is a theoretical angle for a would-be challenger; Kilgore underestimates just how internally divided his party is, and he places too much emphasis on the President's current standing when what matters is how he is faring in about a year. I could envision a peculiar left-right coalition where a non-urban liberal claims to represent the "Democratic wing of the Democratic party," but has a kind of cultural connection to the Hillary Clinton voters in the Midwest and Appalachian regions. Such a candidate could in theory have an opportunity if Obama's numbers drop below 40% next year.
The key phrase, however, is "in theory." Several of Kilgore's points are unpersuasive, but his final one -- "Who Would Run?" -- strikes me as decisive. While a liberal/Jacksonian coalition is possible in theory, in practice I just do not see anybody out there right now who could actually stitch it together. I think it is possible for a primary challenger to embarass the president by keeping him, say, under 60 percent of the vote in New Hampshire, but I think there is zero chance Obama will not win the nomination, and there is essentially zero chance he'll have to go the distance.
Historically, the sole example of a serious primary challenge against a Democratic incumbent president in the modern era (i.e. since the reforms of the McGovern-Fraser Commission) was Ted Kennedy's move against Jimmy Carter in 1980. If Kennedy had not run such a lackluster campaign, and if the Iranian hostage situation had not exploded across the headlines, he indeed might have been able to deny Carter renomination. But I just don't think that is a very good historical comparison for 2012. Kennedy's last name gave him cachet and mystique that are just not duplicated in the Democraticy party of the 21st century. There is nobody even approaching the Kennedy stature out there right now.
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