President Barack Obama's frustration with the "shellacking" Democrats received in the midterm elections was palpable, but pundits say things will get worse rapidly if a 2012 primary opponent emerges from his party's left wing.
Historically, presidents who face a strong challenge in the primary do not fare well in their re-election bids. Examples include former President Jimmy Carter's ill-fated bid in 1980, when he faced a strong test from the late Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. Carter went on to lose to Republican Ronald Reagan in the general election.
The same phenomenon may have put Carter in the White House to begin with. A Reagan challenge drained Gerald Ford's resources during a hard-fought primary campaign of 1976, leaving him vulnerable to Carter in November.
So will Obama face a serious primary challenge in 2012 from within his own party?
"I think that somebody from the left will run against him," Fox News commentator and best-selling author Dick Morris tells Newsmax. "And I think the most likely ones are [Wisconsin Sen. Russ] Feingold; [Dennis] Kucinich, the congressman from Ohio; or [former DNC Chairman] Howard Dean. I think one of them will, or some other left-wing candidate will.
"I think the dissatisfaction with Obama on the left is very strong," Morris adds. "There's also the fear that he'll move to the center to accommodate the Republican House, and liberals are going to want to put someone in there to keep him frozen on the left."
But who will step forward to play the role of Obama's left-leaning antagonist?
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who arguably is positioned on Obama's right-flank anyway, has taken her name out of contention through 2016.
Feingold, who lost his senatorial re-election contest in Wisconsin to Republican Ron Johnson, has insisted through a spokesman that he won't run against Obama. An aide said Friday that the former Vermont governor supports the president, insisting Dean "is absolutely, categorically not running in 2012."
When Newsmax asked Roger D. Hodge, the progressive author of "The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism," to evaluate a possible Kucinich candidacy, his reaction was a hearty chuckle.
"I don't think it's much of a threat," Hodge explains. "I think Kucinich is just not a viable presidential candidate. He has no charisma. He has no hope of marshalling any type of national constituency. And he's too much a stereotypical do-gooder."
Hodge, the former editor of Harper's Magazine, says he would like to see Obama face primary competition.
"I think it would be a good thing," Hodge tells Newsmax. "My approach to these questions is not what is good for the Democratic Party, but what is good for the country? I think it would be good for the country for there to be some real debate about the Democratic Party's agenda . . . I wish there would be a challenge . . . I suspect there won't be much of one."
That may change, however, if Obama's job approval rating drops significantly in the midterm rout. Democrats nervous about their prospects in 2012 could begin to see the president as a political liability, Morris says.
The left feels that Obama has jilted it because he escalated the war in Afghanistan, hasn't eased the chronic high unemployment rate, did not win a public option in healthcare reform, and has yet to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Also, the case against "don't ask, don't tell" has been driven by the courts rather than the executive branch. And cap-and-trade restrictions on carbon emissions remain stalled in the U.S. Senate for the foreseeable future.
Clearly, the administration is anxious to stay in the good graces of the activist Democratic base. On Friday, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett held a conference call with progressives around the nation to pick up the pieces after the devastating impact of the midterms. The objective of the meet-up was to assure liberals the administration will continue to represent them in Washington.
But pundits expect it will take more than a few phone calls to assuage the disappointment pervading the Democratic base.
"Yes, I think a liberal candidate against Obama will get increasing traction as the unemployment lingers, as we remain in Afghanistan and the casualty count increases, and conceivably as Obama moves to the center to satisfy the Republican House," Morris says.
"I think that somebody is going to bet on that and invest in that," he adds.
If so, history suggests more "shellackings" may be yet to come.
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