President Barack Obama's chances of winning a second term appear better today than at anytime in the past two years, but there are plenty of things that could go wrong between now and November.
According to the latest CBS News/New York Times poll the president's approval rating has reached 50%, in part because the economy is slowly improving. According to the poll, 34% of Americans believe that the economy is getting better, up 6% from a month earlier. Still, 59% of those surveyed think the country is on the wrong track, though those saying it is on the right track increased in the last month from 29% to 35%. Yet 50% of the respondents still disapprove of the president's handling of the economy while 44% approve. At a minimum, these numbers reflect a great deal of uncertainty about the economy, which will likely be the most important issue for voters next November.
With a bit of wind at his back, the president is now leading each of the potential Republican candidates according to the poll. The Republicans have been engaged in a negative and divisive primary that has hurt each of the candidates, especially presumed front-runner Mitt Romney. And 57% of Republicans think the tough primary will hurt their party's chances in November's presidential election.
The CBS News/New York Times poll shows that former Senator Rick Santorum has surged into the lead over Romney. The Romney campaign immediately responded with a barrage of negative attack ads against Santorum. If the former Pennsylvania senator can win the Michigan and Arizona primaries in two weeks he will give the Romney campaign a near fatal blow.
Romney grew up in Michigan and he was thought to have a home state advantage. But a recent state poll shows Santorum is in front. Santorum's appeal in this rustbelt state seems to be his genuineness and his blue-collar upbringing. On the other hand, Romney is a "one percenter" and, well, a Mittbot. But with Santorum's success will come more scrutiny into his record in office and into his views on social issues. His positions on contraception and women in the military do not reflect the views of most Americans.
While the Republicans duke it out, the president must navigate through some very tricky waters. Republicans in Congress have vowed they will do all they can to stop President Obama from winning a second term. Meanwhile, this country's economic recovery is fragile. Making matters even more precarious, Europe is struggling to manage their difficult economic crisis, the outcome of which will impact the U.S.
Of even greater concern are reports that Iran is continuing to build a nuclear bomb and that it is behind a series of terrorist attacks against Israel. A war between Israel and Iran could break out before the November elections and America's hand will be forced. This as Afghanistan, Syria, China and Russia each are ongoing difficult diplomatic challenges for the U.S.
The president may very well be winning head-to-head against Santorum, Romney, Gingrich or Paul. But when the Republicans select their nominee, no matter who's left standing, the race will tighten. Because this country is deeply divided, perhaps 45% Republican and 45% Democrat, the winner will need an energized base and a majority of the independents. And don't be surprised if many voters do not make up their mind until election day. This one will be too close to call.
Of course, maybe an endorsement from Knicks phenom Jeremy Lin would help?