Of the 18 Republican debates so far, none has drawn even 8 million viewers. Tonight, nearly 50 million people are expected to tune in to the State of the Union—a good reminder of the many ways President Obama seems to have the wind at his back for the unofficial kickoff of his reelection campaign.
After three states produced three different winners, Obama has happily ceded the political stage as the remaining Republicans have formed a circular firing squad. Gingrich has tried to make Romney a poster boy for corporate greed, while Romney in turn is deriding the former House speaker as a corrupt, highly paid Washington lifer. And Ron Paul, who declined to endorse John McCain in 2008, seems poised to again be a thorn in the side of his party’s eventual nominee.
While the Republicans dredge up attacks on one another that will resurface in Obama attack ads against the eventual nominee (Rick Perry calling Romney a “vulture capitalist,” or Romney calling Gingrich an “unreliable leader”), Obama himself has managed to mostly stay above the fray. And the longer the Republicans have to steer right to appeal to their party’s base, the bigger the opening for Obama to romance the independents who swooned at his 2008 campaign but want to be wooed again this year before committing.
What’s more, after three grim years the job numbers seem to be turning around just in time to benefit Obama—the unemployment rate fell to a three-year low in December as employers added nearly 200,000 jobs, nearly all of them in the private sector—potentially defanging the Republican argument that the president has failed to create jobs.
With the Hispanic vote expected to play a key role in the general election, Obama has again benefited as his opponents have competed, as they did in 2008, to be the most draconian in their immigration policies. So while under the Obama administration, the U.S. has deported more than 1 million illegal immigrants—causing his approval rating with Hispanics to drop to 54 percent according to the Pew Research Center—he’s still the pick of most Hispanic voters, with 68 percent saying in December they would vote for him in November, compared with 23 percent who’d vote for Romney. The former Massachusetts governor’s efforts to reach out to Latino voters have been overshadowed by his vow to veto the DREAM Act if president and by endorsements from anti-immigration leaders such as Arizona immigration law author Kris Kobach. And with more than 2 million more Hispanic voters expected to be on the rolls this year than in 2008, a more than 10 percent increase, just matching his 67–31 margin over McCain would mean winning an even bigger number of Hispanic voters that he did four years ago.
Finally, running for president is expensive and while Republicans have been shelling out millions on transportation, advertising, and other costly campaign activities, Obama has been fundraising like crazy. The president, who became the first major-party candidate to decline matching funds in 2008, is determined to top the $750 million he raised that year and is on track to do so. In 2011 alone the Obama campaign and the Democratic Party raised $224 million—more than all of the Republican contenders combined. Romney’s campaign, tops among the Republicans, raised a reported total of $56 million in 2011.
Those fundraising numbers, though, don’t account for the super PACs that are nominally independent of the candidates they support and that can collect unlimited contributions. So far at least, Priorities USA Action, the super PAC backing Obama, has taken in much less money than Restore Our Future, the super PAC backing Romney.