Don’t bet against the incumbent

Robert Houk • Oct 29, 2012 at 9:27 AM

I had lunch last week with two grand ladies in their 80s who have enjoyed a long love affair with the Republican Party. This year is no exception. Both hope the GOP nominee for president prevails on Nov. 6.

When asked, however, who they think will win the race, both gave the same diplomatic answer.

“I just pray that God will help this nation select the right man.”

Even if you don’t believe in a deity, it’s hard to disagree with their sentiment. Perhaps we do need a higher power to decide this presidential election, and I’m not talking about the U.S. Supreme Court, which made a royal mess of its last attempt.

When I was asked by my luncheon companions who I believe will win the presidential race, I also gave a diplomatic answer.

“I never bet against the incumbent,” I told them.

That’s a safe bet because in our political system the deck is usually stacked in favor of the incumbent. I also believe that the Republican nominee hasn’t successfully convinced people that he would be a good president.

What he has done, and somewhat successfully, is to drive home the fact that he is not President Obama. And I’m not talking about a difference in public policy, or political philosophy. I’m being literal here — Mitt Romney is not Obama. To some voters, this makes all the difference. In regard to members of this demographic group, the Republican Party could have nominated a Cheshire cat and they would vote for it.

To this point, I’m not sure the United States has ever elected a president based solely on the fact he was not the other guy. Yes, there were folks who genuinely disliked Truman, Nixon and Clinton, but I think they were just as enthusiastic about their candidates for the job.

Hate for the incumbent, alone, hasn’t been a recipe for winning the White House. Just ask Sen. John Kerry, who was “swift-boated” right out the 2004 race even with the soft support the second Bush was showing in the polls.

There’s no question this has been the strangest presidential election of my lifetime. Polls have shown Obama and Romney swapping the lead on several occasions. Whether he holds on to his edge in Ohio could mean the difference between Obama being remembered as a two-term president or as a Jimmy Carter.

If Romney wins, he will make history as being the first non-protestant Republican to serve as president. Romney’s faith — he is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — has troubled some Christians, particularly evangelicals in the South.

Last week, Franklin Graham (son of the Rev. Billy Graham) told Christians it would be OK for them to support a Mormon for president. It was also announced the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association had removed the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from its list of cults.

Regardless of who wins the White House, this nation will survive. I don’t agree with the doom sayers, who predict calamity if someone other than their candidate wins.

This country has met far more crucial challenges than this election. We the people will continue to persevere, just as we have for 236 years.

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at rhouk@johnsoncitypress.com.

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