It’s still too early to predict the 2012 presidential election, says political analyst Charlie Cook.
Cook, a leading election analyst who edits and publishes the Cook Political Report, spoke Monday at the SIU Student Center Auditorium on “Forecasting the 2012 Elections,” an event held by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. Although he said his forecast could change because of certain factors, including the route the winning Republican nominee takes to obtain independent votes, Cook said he predicts Mitt Romney will win the Republican presidential nomination.
“It’s over,” he said. “He’ll either make it across the finish line or fall over.”
Cook said Romney has picked up 49.65 percent of all the delegates in the election so far. While Romney needs about 51 percent of the remaining delegates in order to win, Cook said, it is still more likely for him to take those than for Rick Santorum to attain the additional 76 percent he needs.
While the numbers show the current frontrunner has a significantly higher chance of winning the nomination, Cook emphasized that the changing atmosphere of both the Republican party and the demand of its constituents has shaped the race and factor
into its change.
David Yepsen, president of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, said most political observers would agree with Cook on the change in the Republican party and what it demands of its candidates.
“Both parties have drifted to the ends of the spectrum,” he said. “I think Charlie’s right in that this poses a problem for the Republican party, because you have good, active, well-meaning conservatives who want to nominate a good conservative candidate, and yet they have to be careful in doing that so they don’t turn off the voters in the middle who decide presidential elections.”
Cook said there have been three different candidates with strengths in the different areas, which is why the campaign has had such changes thus far.
Scott McClurg, a professor in the political science department who had Cook speak to his ‘Campaigns and Elections’ class Monday, said he thinks one problem a lot of people have with Romney is his trustworthiness. Romney’s credibility, McClurg said, is questionable. However, that image may not matter when it comes to the Republican nomination, he said.
“All these other groups, all they can do is extend the process and frustrate the candidate; they can’t win on their own,” he said. “The people that are really making the decisions — the party elites, the funders — they made up their mind awhile back that Romney was their guy.”
While Cook joked that the 10 percent of Republicans who recently said in a poll they approve of Obama must not have been able to hear the question, McClurg said Cook’s emphasis that many Republicans are looking for a candidate just to beat Obama is one thing he doesn’t fully agree with.
“I’m not entirely convinced that just because these folks really hate Obama, that that’s going to be enough to keep them on board,” he said.
But whether the nominee can beat Obama is what the political analyst said is most unpredictable.
“The country is clearly thinking about getting a new president,” Yepsen said. “But the question is whether the Republicans can nominate somebody who can fill that role.”
He said one characteristic of presidents is that of presenting a hopeful, upbeat view to the country. One of those areas people are looking for hope, Yepsen said, is in the economy.
“Unfortunately, Republicans get help if the economy gets worse, although no Republican wants that to happen,” he said.
What Republicans should be looking out for is the vote of those who call themselves independent, or are in the middle, Cook said. In the last election, Cook said, the independents helped Obama win.
But which way the independents choose to vote, Republican or Democrat, and to what degree they split is not the only concern when it comes to predicting who will win the general election. The economy, he said, holds a great weight in who will win.
He said while there is more to presidential elections than the economy, the odds of a president being re-elected when there is a declining economy are not good.
Unemployment and how much money people have for disposable income in addition to the minimal growth in economic outlook are critical to whether Obama gets re-elected, Cook said. He said if unemployment rates are even dropping by a small percentage point leading up to the election, voters begin to feel better about the state of the economy, and the president’s approval rating improves. But if it stays down, he said, the president will struggle to secure a second term.
He said probably two-thirds of the equation on who is reelected depends on what the progress in the economy is in the next seven months leading up to the election.
Cook said although the state of the economy may be impacted by international events, he said that doesn’t matter to the average voter.
“To the average motorists, when they’re driving by that gas station and looking at that sign that’s getting up to or over $4 a gallon, don’t tell them about international events, because a lot of them probably aren’t going to view that quite so coolly,” he said.
Cook’s reasoning that Obama will need the help of the economy to get re-elected while Romney will need to look at his positioning on issues in order to get the votes of the independents may make the ability to predict who will win a hard one to make, but he said if Romney does win the Republican candidacy, he will face a struggle in the general election.
“He’s having to run to the right as hard and fast as he can. He’s sort of turned himself into a pretzel to get this nomination,” Cook said. “And at some point, once he feels secure that he nailed it down, he is going to be having to make the turn, do a pivot, and my prediction is it will be graceless. It will not be artful, it will be clumsy, and he’ll catch a load of grief from conservatives when he does it.”