Did President Obama win a mandate?
The incumbent scored a heady electoral victory and a narrow popular-vote win. How much political capital does that give him?
Politico's Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen caught some heat before the election by arguing that if Obama was re-elected, he would not win "a broad mandate" because the polls showed he is "the popular choice of Hispanics, African-Americans, single women, and highly educated urban whites," but not independents or the bulk of white voters. (Romney won independents 50 percent to 45 percent, and won whites 59 percent to 39 percent.) Of course, Obama did win, 50.3 percent to 48.1 percent, with a hefty 303 electoral votes (a tally that will likely climb to 332 when Florida is officially called Obama's way). And as small-business IT coach Jeff Harbert notes on Twitter, "George W. Bush called his 286 electoral vote win over John Kerry in 2004 a mandate." Did Obama win a big pocketful of political capital on Tuesday?
Obama does not have a mandate: This wasn't the sweeping victory Obama notched in 2008, says Glenn Thrush at Politico. It was "an electoral college triumph wrested from a reluctant electorate after one of the most bitter presidential races in recent history." Obama seems to be winning the argument over raising taxes on the wealthy, but he's lost the soaring "bully pulpit" he had four years ago. This "hard-won victory seemed too narrow and too rooted in the Democratic base to grant him anything close to a mandate."
"Obama re-election: Grind-it-out win"
The mandate is there for the taking: "Quite the contrary," says The Baltimore Sun in an editorial: Obama "can have a robust mandate if he chooses to use it." Americans are "hungry for big solutions to the nation's problems," and they want a president who will grab the political center and dare his opponents to meet him there on issues like taxes, the deficit, immigration reform, and climate change. Voters desperately want "someone to unite us around bold but pragmatic solutions to our problems. That is Barack Obama's mandate."
The very idea of an electoral mandate is a myth: "If the president begins his second term under any delusion that voters rubber-stamped his agenda on Tuesday night, he is doomed to fail," says Ron Fournier at National Journal. That's the mistake Bush made with Social Security in 2004, and Bill Clinton made with health care in 1992. In fact, with few exceptions — FDR during the Great Depression and LBJ after John F. Kennedy's assassination — "mandates are rarely won on election night. They are earned after Inauguration Day by leaders who spend their political capital wisely." If Obama can do that, he'll do just fine.
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