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.

Live-blogging the Republican presidential debate (live now on CNN)

Hello, and welcome back. I am once again sitting on a living room couch in Paris. It is 1:56 AM, and yes, I am repeatedly questioning my life choices. (Am I questioning my life choices as much as Republicans are questioning their presidential choices, however? I think not. I hope not.)

So then, let us begin.

1:59 AM – The CNN.com online feed is showing crew members walking self-importantly back and forth across the stage.

2:01 AM – The CNN intro just dubbed Ron Paul “the delegate hunter.” Not a great start for him. But then, Mitt Romney got called “the long-distance runner,” so that’s not much of an improvement.

2:04 AM – I think Rick Santorum got the weakest cheers when he walked out. And I’m not sure Ron Paul actually shook Newt Gingrich’s hand when he got to the center of the stage. (Probably just missed it.) Also, given that this is a GOP event, yes, we are in fact being treated to a cheesy choral rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. It’s in their contract (for America?).

2:05 AM – How’d they find an Asian female willing to sing at the Republican debate? We’re all disappointed in you, ma’am.

2:07 AM – They’re sitting! Somehow that disappoints me slightly.

2:08 AM – Newt Gingrich is wearing a purple tie, and immediately mentioned energy in his 10-second intro. Weird choice. Or maybe not, given gas prices.

2:09 AM – Santorum has just promised to cut the budget by $5 trillion in 5 years. This seems reasonable enough. Also, he just assured us he won’t cut defense. But welfare’s on the chopping block. I am so glad to hear we’re not going to cut our military funding. We haven’t had a really fun war in quite awhile.

2:11 AM – Romney’s had his first “I’m a businessman!” moment. He loves to work that in. Also, these camera views are awesome. They’re sitting close enough together to play footsies under the table. I think that’s what Gingrich and Romney are doing now, in fact.

2:12 AM – Did Romney just say he’s going to cut unemployment by 10%? So we’ll have roughly -2% or -3% unemployment? Actually, I can almost understand the math: that horrible feeling when you have a job and can’t seem to get fired.

2:14 AM – Romney, in responding to Santorum, just made a point of assuring the audience that he would cut taxes for the top 1% as well. Way to pander? (Not so much.)

2:15 AM – Gingrich: “You’re never going to balance the budget on the backs of a highly-unemployed country…So I would focus on jobs-based growth.” So…you’re dropping out and endorsing Obama?

2:16 AM – Ron Paul! Jon King asks him why he called Ron Santorum fake. Paul: “Well…because he’s fake.” Best part? Santorum’s sitting two inches to his left. Paul’s still going at him for fake fiscal conservatism and got some loud cheers. Finally, he closes with a weird, off-tangent complaint about foreign aid spending. Come on, Ron. You’re better than that.

2:22 AM – Gingrich looks sad and lonely, but also oddly at peace with himself. Methinks he just downed a solid pre-debate burger.

2:23 AM – It’s strange to see Gingrich address Romney’s ideas with so much deference and friendliness. He looks like a man who’s well aware of his impending defeat and has been given strict orders to derail Santorum.

2:25 AM – No fireworks so far.

2:26 AM – I hate to say this, but I kinda, sorta agree with Santorum on this one. Earmarks aren’t the end of the world. OK, quick, must disagree with him on something quickly before I become unable to recognize myself.

2:29 AM – OK, and now it’s getting heated. Santorum’s getting pissed about the earmarks discussion, Mitt’s talking over him, then Newt tried to get involved because Mitt mentioned him (gently) as a leader of an earmarking Congress, followed by Paul trying to talk after Santorum called him a prolific ear-marker. This is all getting very confusing. And more and more irrelevant.

2:35 AM – This audience is weird. They’re booing and clapping at the strangest things. Literally, as soon as I typed that, they clapped when Mitt Romney said the word “bankruptcy.”

2:39 AM – I love watching ol’ Rick start to get heated. You just know his advisers keep telling him, “Keep your cool, keep your cool, keep your cool,” but he just can’t help himself sometimes. People can just be so wrong.

2:44 AM – First commercial break, and I’m out. Too tired, and nothing’s going on.