And speaking of presidential elections…

…get ready for more of this in the upcoming months:

“Certain precincts in this county are not going to vote for Obama,” said John Corrigan, clerk of courts for Jefferson County, who was drinking coffee in a furniture shop downtown one morning last week with a small group of friends, retired judges and civil servants. “I don’t want to say it, but we all know why.”

A retired state employee, Jason Foreman, interjected, “I’ll say it: it’s because he’s black.”

This could get ugly. One of the more interesting aspects of this general election matchup between President Barack Obama and the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, is the fact that they both suffer from two very similar trust deficit problems with large swaths of the American public.

Governor Mitt Romney of MA

First, both Romney and Obama are seen, by significant portions of the public, as un-American. For Romney, this is due to his Mormonism, which 22% of Americans last year cited as a disqualifying factor for the presidency. For Obama, this is due to his father’s Kenyan heritage and his own race, as well as lingering doubts as to his birthplace resulting from repeated lies being perpetrated by some right-wing groups.

Secondly, both candidates supported, and subsequently passed, universal healthcare coverage laws in their respective constituencies: the entire country for Obama, the state of Massachusetts for Romney. And although Romney has vowed to repeal “Obamacare” as soon as he is elected President (which may become a moot point next month if the Supreme Court rules the law unconstitutional), the fact that he passed a virtually identical bill while governor certainly doesn’t help his credibility.

And it is this tension — between the candidates’ political weaknesses and their desire to attack those same perceived weaknesses in their opponents — that should turn what might otherwise be a rather boring general election contest into riveting political theater. It will be interesting to see Obama subtly play up his Christianity and Romney do the same with his, well, whiteness. In terms of who has the edge, I’d give Romney a slight advantage here. Despite the fact that Obama projects an infinitely “cooler” public persona, a significant portion of the American public is still reticent (or racist) enough about his identity to such an extent that Romney can exploit this discomfort for electoral gain. Conversely, while Obama can try to very gently remind Americans of Romney’s Mormonism (to be clear, I find it ludicrous and disgusting that anyone wouldn’t vote for Romney based on his Mormonism, but that probably won’t stop Obama from trying), he likely won’t score as many points with this as Romney can with the “un-American” verbal grenades he’ll be tossing at Obama.

Cropped version of File:Official portrait of B...

On health care, however, I think the situation is flipped. Obama has the advantage here, as Romney has made Obamacare’s repeal a central cog of his presidential election campaign and yet passed basically the same thing in Massachusetts. His problem is one of credibility, especially given the massive attention being paid to the questions of whether he is sufficiently conservative and whether he has a real “core.” Obama, on the other hand, will likely be in a superior position, since it’s a law he passed as President and he is clearly interested in keeping it on the books. His weaknesses are twofold: 1) although individual elements of the law remain popular, the overall legislation is not; and 2) Obama has shown a surprising (and absolutely infuriating) tendency to back away from his own legislative achievements. If he wants to own Romney on the health care question, he needs to be unequivocal in his support for the health care bill he passed. Of course, Romney can then use this firmness to try to showcase how Obama’s out of step with the American public, but again, he’ll run straight into the credibility buzz-saw (since he passed the same thing at the state level).

This could end up being a very delicate tap-dance in the debates. Meanwhile, the TV ads will likely get really ugly, on both sides.

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