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Five Reasons why Barack Obama won – and Five Challenges for the Future

Huw EvansThe swing voters of Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Iowa have spoken and Barack Obama is only the second Democratic two-term president since the 1930s. More encouraging for Angela Merkel and David Cameron, he is the first G8 leader who dealt with the financial crisis who has won re-election. Here are five reasons why he won and five challenges for the future.

Five Reasons he won:

  1. He was a better candidate than his opponent. Obama played to his strengths; a world-respected leader who at home saved General Motors, reformed Medicare and oversaw Bin Laden's death. Mitt Romney seemed bashful about his impressive business success (allowing it to be defined by Democrat attack ads) and was too wooden for too long, imprisoned by defensiveness about his wealth and Mormonism. The first debate rocked the polls because it briefly reversed this narrative but Obama came back strongly enough to prevail.
  2. The economy is slowly improving. In a manner that will encourage David Cameron and George Osborne, Obama managed to persuade enough swing voters that things are getting better and the pain would be worth it. With growth and employment levels heading slowly in the right direction, it was more difficult for Romney to argue that the economy was so broken he was required to fix it.
  3. Obama fought a better campaign. Even Republicans acknowledge this. Key states were targeted ruthlessly and efficiently from the president's first day in office; Ohio was won over four years, not four months. Obama's early fundraising paid for a blizzard of attack ads that helped define Romney and the superb ground organisation got the vote out. The Democrat campaign targeted voter groups better too; particularly the critical Hispanic demographic which Romney failed to make sufficient inroads into.
  4. Obama tackled his negatives in office. Like many a president before him, Obama struggled with the job for much of the first term with a merry-go-round of senior staff, half-baked initiatives and uncertain foreign policy. He corrected all of them from 18 months out, burnishing his security credentials with the Bin Laden operation and drone warfare against Al Qaida and with a highly-rated and sure-footed Secretary of State in Hillary Clinton strengthening his foreign policy record.
  5. Obama was lucky. All the most successful politicians are also the luckiest. Obama is no exception. The deep divisions within the Republicans made it impossible for Romney to win the nomination and then campaign convincingly enough from the centre ground. Hurricane Sandy suspended the frenzy of last week campaigning that Romney needed to upset the president. And Obama wouldn't be president at all if Hillary Clinton's dysfunctional campaign hadn't thrown away a winning lead in the Democratic primaries in 2007/8.

Five Challenges for the re-elected President Obama:

  1. Sort the Budget. With the January 1 'fiscal cliff' looming, the president needs to use his new mandate to get a deal; his acceptance speech this morning was heavy on rhetoric on the need for a more bi-partisan politics in Washington for just this reason. Without a more stable budget process, investment in the US will continue to be supressed.
  2. Break the Washington logjam. The Budget is just the first of the battles Obama needs to win with the Republican-led House of Representatives (who control the money in the US constitution). The temptation will be to place the onus on the Republicans to change their ways but Obama too will need to be less remote and more prepared to do the ego-managing deals that are essential to making Washington work.
  3. Afghanistan. The biggest cheer in his acceptance speech this morning was his promise that a decade of wars was at an end. The withdrawal from Afghanistan needs to work and for it look like the loss of American life was worth it.
  4. Iran-Israel. The biggest foreign policy challenge of his second term. Both Iran and Israel have bitter divisions within their ruling establishments making negotiation and leverage more of a challenge for the US. Iran destroyed one Democratic president and could easily make the second term of this one a nightmare.
  5. Relevance. A newly re-elected second term president is at his most powerful moment at the beginning; the sands of time are always against him and so his recent history. Every two term president in the last 50 years has found his relevance and authority diminished during the second term by a major crisis; Hurricane Katrina for George W Bush, Monica Lewinsky for Bill Clinton, Iran Contra for Ronald Reagan to name but a few. The most powerful man in the world will need a reason to matter every day of the next four years.

Last updated 29/06/2016