With good reason. Republican challenger Mitt Romney continued to fight hard Monday, with five stops in four states and plans for two more events on Tuesday amid hope among his team and supporters that the energy at his rallies will translate into a big GOP turnout and a victory.
Obama’s campaign has spent enormous sums of money trying to make this election about Romney and a choice between competing visions. Those efforts took a toll on the challenger. But at heart, reelection campaigns are a judgment about the incumbent’s record in his first term and expectations about what a second might bring. Obama is not the same politician he was four years ago. If he wins, who would he be with another four years?
Would he become what he promised in 2008 but was not in his first term, a leader with the talents to guide a divided political system to a consensus on the country’s most intractable problems? Would the scars from a series of bitter fights with Republicans make him more or less inclined to make compromises he might have made in his first term? What would animate him in a second term? What would he pursue for his legacy?
He does not lack for ambitions. In a recent interview with editors of the Des Moines Register, an interview that initially was off the record, he expressed confidence that, as a newly reelected president, he could produce the grand bargain with congressional Republicans on a plan to deal with the federal deficit that he could not reach in the summer of 2011.
He said the bargain he seeks is one that would include $1 in new revenue for every $2.50 in spending cuts. It would not be easy to strike a deal with Republicans, he said. In fact, he acknowledged, it would be messy. But he said he thinks he could engineer a credible compromise.
A second priority, he told the Register, would be comprehensive immigration reform, something President George W. Bush, his predecessor, was denied because of opposition within his party. Obama said he is confident that he could get something done on the issue in a second term because he believes that if Republicans lose this presidential race, enough of them will conclude that they need to repair their relations with the Hispanic community.
What’s most interesting about what he told the Register is that these are things he rarely spoke about on the campaign trail. Obama, like Romney, has a five-point plan. His includes creating more jobs, particularly in manufacturing; developing domestic energy from all sources; putting more money into education and training; taking some of the money now spent on the war in Afghanistan and putting it into rebuilding the United States’ infrastructure.