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Jim Lee: Obama has tough road to second term

Strategists for President Barack Obama's re-election campaign who are expressing glee over a protracted, nasty Republican nomination battle between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney shouldn't underestimate the party faithful's ability to come together when the need arises to defeat a common enemy.

To be sure, those who expressed exasperation at Sarah Palin "going rogue" during the 2008 presidential race are probably looking back on those times with a bit of longing nostalgia. Gingrich, going all the way back to his days as House Speaker, was always full of himself, a flaw that has been pointed out by many within the party. And he has never been shy about resorting to personal attacks against anyone he sees as an opponent or feels has done him wrong. That's another character flaw that continues to shine brightly this campaign.

Republicans are worried that Gingrich is merely providing additional fodder for Democrats later in the campaign when the race becomes an Obama-Romney contest. There's probably some truth to that. And they are worried about Romney's unfavorable rating even among Republicans, a rating that has been on a downward slope in recent weeks even as he took almost half the votes in Florida's primary.

Romney, however, has done as much to hurt his image as any of his competitors. Many see him as the embodiment of the rich Republican elite who have no connection with the day to day concerns of average Americans.

Despite all these things, Democrats should be careful about raising their hopes too high that their candidate can win re-election. They need only look back at the long fight between Hillary Clinton and Obama in 2008. Despite their battles, the anti-Republican mood in the country was still running high, and voters turned out to deny that party control of our nation.

Continuing high unemployment, stagnant wages and ongoing financial problems remain uppermost in the minds of voters, all things that are going to play in Republicans' favor.

Romney's image as an out-of-touch elitist won't hurt him either. Truth be told, just about any career politician Republican or Democrat has little connection to average Americans. Some are better at feigning empathy than others, but few can make the actual connections between the actions they take in their official capacity as lawmakers and the boots-on-the-ground impact it has on us.

Likewise, missteps and barbs thrown by either Gingrich now or Democrats later aren't going to sway the hard-core loyalists who consider only political party and nothing else when they go to the voting booth.

Middle of the roaders, meanwhile, have seen Obama's leadership style for the past three years and likely have already decided whether they are going to support him or support his opponent.

And Democrats need to fully understand the depth of hatred that many in the Republican Party have for Obama. Many of these folks are the same ones supporting Gingrich, Rick Santorum or Ron Paul. And while they are furiously attacking Romney now for not being conservative enough or being too much of a flip-flopper, come Election Day they are all going to the polls, and they will all vote for him because he is the only thing standing in the way of a second term for Obama.

So no, a continuing long primary battle in the Republican race isn't going to hurt the party in the long-run. If anything, it keeps the party in the headlines longer, giving them all that free air time and keeping the messages they are sending to voters on the news every day.

Obama, who since his State of the Union address seems to have entered into campaign mode, and his advisors would do well to ignore the election for as long as they can and concentrate their efforts on improving the economy. That's what voters care about. And that, ultimately, is what is going to decide the election.

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