11/01/2012 09:59 am ET Updated Jan 01, 2013

Term 2: Obama On the Verge

With less than a week to go in this benighted election season, President Barack Obama is on the verge of winning what became, after one bad debate performance, a surprisingly hard-fought re-election.

The first black president of the Harvard Law Review, first black president of the United States, should gain another historic first as the first person of color to be re-elected POTUS. And here I had thought -- until 2007, that is, when I realized that Obama could do more than give a great speech -- that I would never see an African American president.

Not that things have gone exactly smoothly since then.

Yet I expect Obama to celebrate his second inaugural come January, the same month as the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Despite the Denver face plant, an Obama victory has always been my expectation, though an "x-factor" could confound things. Like the Benghazi disaster, which was not at all well-handled by the Obama administration and was thoroughly muffed as a line of attack by Romney.

It may be that the superstorm is the finishing factor in this race. Finishing as in putting finishing touches on Obama's re-election, along with his powerful ground operation.

It's not the only closing factor in the race, however, and some do not help Obama at all.

But what Superstorm Sandy demonstrates is the critical role of government, and particularly strong federal government as represented by the Federal Emergency Management Administration. Especially in the face of the anti-FEMA quasi-libertarianism espoused by Romney and his Ayn Rand acolyte running mate Paul Ryan, who look to charity and cash-strapped states. And it demonstrates, once again, the reality of climate change, denied by the Rs, for the increased extreme weather events, though individually unpredictable, that we are experiencing are all part of the greenhouse scenario.

On Monday morning, before the bulk of the storm hit, I wrote in the Monday Morning Quarterback feature of my New West Notes blog, as part of a number of election forecasts, that Obama has the edge in the election.

The closing factors in the race have been piling up since.

* The super-storm effect, part 1: Effectiveness.

The disaster has been good for Obama, because it showcases him as a responsive and effective leader. And because he's acquired an unlikely new admirer, Governor Chris Christie, the GOP convention keynoter who is calling Obama "outstanding," a "great partner" in managing the massive crisis.

Christie's state is heavily reliant on assistance from FEMA, an agency that Romney during the current campaign said he would slash.

Christie, who may at last have hit on a way to get his idol Bruce Springsteen (one of Obama's biggest and most loyal backers) to call him back, has helped give Obama the kind of feel-good post-partisan boost that many voters like, especially after such a negative campaign.

Now Romney is dodging repeated questions from reporters on his FEMA stance. Since Ryan's touted budget plan would also severely slash FEMA funding, I suppose he hasn't much choice.

* The super-storm effect, part 2: Tactics.

This part is bad for Obama, because the after-effects of the superstorm complicate efforts to turn out some of his base voters in early voting programs.

* The climate change factor.

It's ironic that extreme weather events such as this are part of the scenario for climate change, since the issue has been barely mentioned during this shallow campaign season. Right after the conventions, in "Pay No Attention to the Elephant: The Conventions and the Climate," I noted that the historic Arctic Sea ice melt coincided with a near blackout of any discussion of climate change by pols and media.

At least Obama mentioned climate change. But then, so did Romney. He made it a joke in his convention speech. Little surprise then that his chief Washington advisor, close friend and fellow Mormon Jack Gerard, is the president of the American Petroleum Institute. That should motivate some enviros to turn out.

* The Clinton factor.

How smart was it for Obama to make his bitter primary rival Hillary Clinton secretary of state?

Superstorm Sandy played havoc with presidential campaign schedules. One person whose schedule did not scale back is former President Bill Clinton. He was to have campaigned with Obama Monday in three swing states. But with the president being, well, president, that went by the boards, at least for now.

Clinton is campaigning in eight swing states this week, pushing back especially hard on Romney's false claims that Jeep is relocating its production to China, as well as his attempt to obfuscate his opposition to the auto industry rescue plan. (Romney said he favored government loan guarantees, meaningless at a time in which there was no private money to be had.) Car company presidents, too, are rejecting Romney's increasingly desperate clams.

* The jobs report factor.

The U.S. unemployment rate, which in September dropped to 7.8 percent, best since Obama took over as president in the midst of the great global recession, seems to be dropping again in October. We get a pre-election report.

The Gallup Poll survey, which had the rate going below 8 percent for the first time in nearly four years just before the official numbers came out, has the unemployment rate dropping again in mid-October.

So much for the far right theme that the numbers were cooked when the official rate dropped below 8 percent. Of course, those were the same folks who said there was no recession in 2008. And Gallup is a poll that, in my observation, consistently has an extra edge for a Republican candidate.

* The outcome indicator factor.

The race still looks close, but one of the best indicators of the outcome overwhelmingly picks Obama to win.

That indicator? The people themselves, who correctly predicted the winners of the last four presidential elections in this final pre-election Gallup sounding.

A new Gallup Poll survey, taken just before Superstorm Sandy made polling impossible in much of the US, shows voters picking Obama as the likely winner next Tuesday over Romney by a wide margin, 54 percent to 34 percent.

Tellingly, even though their preferences have been split, independent voters pick Obama to win over Romney, 52-32.

But we also don't yet know the impact of a few x-factors.

* What will be the impact of race?

An AP poll indicates that nearly four years of the Obama presidency has resulted not in a new era of racial harmony but in an increase in anti-black attitudes, with a majority of Americans now holding them.

* The Benghazi factor.

Obama has gotten through this, but has taken some hits. Might there be a late revelation, real or faux, casting it all in a bad light for him? My guess is no, but it's a guess. The bigger problem may be yet another complicating factor for the geopolitical pivot to the Pacific, which I've written about in this archive.

* The Super PAC factor.

The storm of Super PAC advertising is breaking heavily now. Can it counter the force of Obama's superior organization?

I expect Obama to win Ohio. Without Ohio, it's extraordinarily difficult for Romney to win. I was in Ohio the weekend before the 2008 election and the vibe was clear. This year's reports sound similar.

I also expect Obama to win Nevada and Iowa, states in which I have a lot of experience, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire. Florida looks tough to me, North Carolina always has, and I'm not sure about Colorado.

Barack Obama has always appeared to me as the man who arrived early, a figure from about 50 years in America's future. His exotic ethnicity and background, his insistent yet non-alpha style, his very name, it's always been more than a bit scifi.

I've expected him to be elected since the fall of 2007, and there is no compelling reason to change that view now.

Obama inherited an exceptionally bad set of situations -- a terrible economy, a deracinated political and media culture, a disastrously teetering geopolitical scene in which our poorly conceived and usually poorly executed adventures in the Islamic world triggered powerful reactions, including the decline of the stable dictatorships on which we've long hung our alliance hats.

Obama also made big mistakes as president, not the least of them his curious decision not to try to bring the country along with him by providing a coherent narrative of tumultuous times and his efforts to manage change. He hasn't exactly been Jed Bartlet in The West Wing.

Then there is the unprecedented demonization which he has undergone, so vehement that it only accelerated after the wild conclusion to the 2008 presidential election in which the honorable John McCain, having dabbled in the darkness of Manchurian Candidate fantasies, had to rein in his own out of control supporters, as I discussed here just over four years ago.

But all that is water (almost) under the bridge. We'll see how things play out in the next term.

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