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The six-month itch (ISRAEL HAYOM OP-ED) Prof. Abraham Ben-Zvi 05/06/12)Source: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=1834 Israel Hayom Israel Hayom Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Exactly six months from now, on Nov. 6, the outcome of the race to the White House will be determined. History suggests that, during this time, the two main contenders for the job may see their standing hit some ups and downs. Take the case of Presidents Jimmy Carter (in 1980) and George H.W. Bush (in 1992). Both initially held on to a sizable lead in public opinion polls but were eventually crushed at the ballot box and replaced by Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, respectively. Voters blamed them for a worsening recession and a whole host of other concerns (like Carter´s perceived ineptitude in dealing with the Iran hostage crisis).

Polls currently show President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney running neck and neck. The former Massachusetts governor may be encouraged by the fact that a thriving, prosperous economy is still light-years away and that unemployment remains stubbornly at 8.2 percent. The jobless rate must drastically decrease for Obama to have a fighting chance at a winning a second term. Since World War II only one incumbent president -- Ronald Reagan, in 1984 -- has won re-election with an unemployment rate higher than 7%.

But Romney still faces many hurdles before claiming the coveted job. Above all, he must somehow disassociate himself from his party´s evangelical conservative base and move toward the political center and its many votes, particularly those of independents disappointed by Obama. But Romney has so far failed to strike a balance that would help him preserve the support of his party´s ideological wing while attracting more pragmatic and moderate voters. His attempt to curry favor with the Right during primary season outraged key constituents, including Hispanics (some of whom would be hurt by his support for tough legislation against illegal immigrants from Mexico). Romney has also had to adopt some extreme positions advocated by the fundamentalist wing of his party that is sparing no effort to ensure he does not deviate from the group´s narrow ideological worldview.

The recent resignation of Romney´s national security spokesperson Richard Grenell is a direct manifestation of this restrictive belief system. The religious-conservative forces in the GOP wanted Grenell out because he is openly gay (he has also recently made politically incorrect comments on gender issues). The fact that Romney has so far refused to back Grenell is an indication of the uphill battle he faces if he wants to win over the center, where his fate ultimately lies.

While the presidential race is still a toss-up, the battle over Congress is slightly clearer. It looks as though the Republican party has an opportunity to win back the Senate in November (and hold on to the House of Representatives). If it succeeds, Obama would have to contend with two contrarian chambers in Congress, assuming he is re- elected. As a result, his room to maneuver could be severely compromised, including on Israel.

All these questions will be resolved once and for all on Nov. 6.

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