Reading This Week's Political Tea Leaves

November 09, 2011

Events of the past week may offer a glimpse of what lies ahead for the GOP and for a beleaguered president and his party. Two Ohio ballot propositions showed the Buckeye State remains a bellwether of American politics. Sixty-one percent of Ohioans overturned Republican Gov. John Kasich's efforts to rein in public-employee unions, handing labor (a vital part of President Obama's political base) an important victory. It was also a significant loss for Mr. Kasich.

A recent Quinnipiac poll suggested why the package went down. True, Ohioans backed making public employees pay at least 15% of health-insurance premiums (60% favor, 33% opposed) and contribute at least 10% of wages for their pensions (by 57%-34%). However, respondents opposed restraints on public-employee unions, including a ban on strikes and limits on collective bargaining over health benefits. As many as one out of every five Republicans opposed Mr. Kasich's reforms, perhaps because police and firemen were covered by them.

On the same day they turned down union reform, however, 66% of Ohioans voted to pass a state constitutional amendment saying citizens can't be forced to purchase health insurance—in other words, to defy the "individual mandate" in Mr. Obama's health reform. The vote, while symbolic, is a strong signal that ObamaCare remains deeply unpopular.

Moreover, Republicans on Tuesday gained control of the state Senate in the critical battleground of Virginia and won the Mississippi House for the first time since Reconstruction. Republicans now dominate 61 of the nation's 99 state legislative chambers. (Nebraska has a unicameral system.)

On the presidential front, Herman Cain's responses to charges of sexual harassment are drawing questions about his sure-footedness. He and his campaign have made several false accusations and had to revise their initial story regarding Mr. Cain's knowledge of the charges. Mr. Cain needs to press the National Restaurant Association to release reports he says will exonerate him of the first two complaints. The controversy is now too big to be resolved by declarations of innocence, no matter how passionate.

Politics was also roiled this week by two "Bills." The first is White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley. He was stripped of some day-to-day management responsibilities and then trashed on background by past and current White House staffers. Many (this writer included) had welcomed Mr. Daley's appointment. His loss of real power is evidence that White House senior adviser and political overlord David Plouffe runs the West Wing—and that class warfare trumped any possibility of a move to the center by Mr. Obama.

Then there's Bill Clinton. In his new book, "Back to Work," he spells out his own jobs plan and then undercuts the president. While Mr. Obama obsessively demands higher taxes, Mr. Clinton says, "Right now, in this fragile economy, I don't favor raising taxes." Mr. Clinton is right on substance but is complicating Mr. Obama's life.

There was also a pair of polls in the battleground states where the 2012 presidential election will be settled, one from Gallup and another from Resurgent Republic (a group I helped bring into existence). Gallup found voters in 12 key swing states (including Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin and North Carolina) believe a generic Republican would do better handling the deficit (54%-38%) and unemployment (49%-42%) than Mr. Obama.

Resurgent Republic also found 70% believe the country is on the wrong track and that, compared to when Mr. Obama took office, 61% believe the economy is worse. This suggests the president won't be re-elected unless the economy improves dramatically.

Republicans have a way to go before settling on their presidential nominee, but the past week provided more evidence that most Americans oppose the president's policies.

This article originally appeared on on Wednesday, November 9, 2011.


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