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This has been a bizarre political year,” Charlie Cook, political pundit and editor/publisher of The Cook Political Report told attendees during Tuesday’s General Session.
There have been seven different front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination, each with his or her unique differences, he added.
Republican voters effectively established three job requirements and that’s why they’ve had a hard time settling on someone. Each job requirement has pointed to a different candidate:
1. Full-spectrum conservative.Who’s conservative from A to Z? Rick Santorum.
2. Championship debater.Who can stand up next to President Obama in a debate? Newt Gingrich.
3. Someone who can beat President Obama in November.One thing that brings together all Republicans is their opposition to Obama: Mitt Romney.
Will Obama be re-elected? Economic metrics are better now than they were, but they’re not where they need to be. This will be a challenge for Obama.
“Look at last fall—the economy was in horrific shape,” Cook said.
With an economy growing at less than 2%, it’s difficult to get re-elected, he said. The unemployment rate was at 9% or higher for 29 months in a row. The current rate is 8.3%—a full point higher than when any president has ever been re-elected.
The statistic that’s the best predictor of how an incumbent will do is the president’s job-approval rating. The biggest component of that is the economy, including factors such as:
• Oil and gas prices. “No president can control gas prices because they’re driven by international events,” said Cook. “But if there’s a perception that the president has been dragging his feet on the Keystone Pipeline, which will bring oil down from Canada, that could be a problem.
"And if there’s a perception that he was or wasn’t as aggressive about drilling as he should have been, then that could be a problem, too. We can expect the energy crisis to continue to intensify, and this will undoubtedly take a toll on the economy.”
• The rest of the world. The world economy is being pulled down, and China’s is slowing down. It’s unlikely the economy will continue to improve for the next eight months at the same pace it has for the past four months.
"The default setting,” Cook said, “is do you want to renew a president’s contract for the next four years? Yes or no?”