2 scandals could hurt Obama's re-election lead

Flaps over prostitutes in Colombia and a lavish conference in Las Vegas could take their toll.

By The Fiscal Times Apr 19, 2012 11:40AM

The Fiscal TimesBy Eric Pianin

President Obama ventured into the Rose Garden Tuesday morning to announce new measures to crack down on oil market manipulation and address soaring gas prices. But as he departed, a television reporter shouted out the burning question of the hour:  Would the director of the U.S. Secret Service resign?

Obama ignored the question.

With more and more unsavory details leaking out about the Secret Service Colombia sex scandal, it would come as no surprise if Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan were shown the gate before too long. The Obama White House has no compunction about firing underlings to try to blunt political controversy.

But it's unlikely this mushrooming scandal will disappear any time soon, amid reports that nearly a dozen U.S. Secret Service agents and more than five military personnel caroused and consorted with prostitutes at a hotel  in advance of Obama's Colombia visit last week. And this comes on top of congressional  hearings this week  into revelations that General Services Administration officials squandered $823,000 on a Las Vegas retreat back in 2010 – complete with a $75,000 bicycle building exercise, a clown show and $6,325 spent on commemorative coins.

So far, at least a half dozen  House and Senate committees have opened investigations into the GSA and Secret Service scandals, with many other Republicans seemingly eager to join in the finger wagging and condemnations. "As I look through this, there's no wonder that the American people have lost faith in their government," lamented freshman Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa. "I want indictments!" declared Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.

Before all this misery beset the administration, it looked as if Obama had turned the corner on the economy and was back in the political catbird's seat heading into the fall election campaign. While unemployment, economic growth and the housing market still left much to be desired, Obama could make the plausible argument that he had succeeded in leading the country out of the worst financial meltdown and recession of modern times, that he saved the U.S. auto industry by bailing out GM and Chrysler, and that he restored investor and consumer confidence.

By contrast, Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, had been so brutally savaged by his  GOP primary rivals as a flip-flopper, liar and faux conservative – and had done such a good job of alienating women and Hispanic voters – that the November election was shaping up as a cakewalk for Obama.  Romney was dismissed by liberal critics and pundits as a  politically tone deaf multi-millionaire aristocrat who boasted about enjoying firing incompetent people, who said he wasn't worried about poor people and who confided that his wife owned two Cadillacs.

But practically overnight, the whole complexion of the contest has changed. The race has begun to tighten, based on fresh polling; economic trends are getting worrisome again, and the European debt crisis has taken another bad turn.

The Gallup Organization's inaugural daily tracking poll had Romney leading Obama by two  percentage points, 47 percent to 45 percent, while Rasmussen Tracking had Romney up by one point. Obama led Romney by nine points in a CNN/Opinion Research poll, 52 percent to 43 percent, and Reuters/Ipsos had the president up by four points.

Moreover, fresh analyses of the electoral map by RealClearPolitics, the Washington Post and other news organizations show that Romney begins the general election campaign with 170 of the 270 electoral votes he would need to win the election. In order to pick up the additional 100 electoral votes, Romney only needs some states that routinely went to Republicans before the 2008 race (namely Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Montana)  while retaining a few states that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., managed to win – including Arizona and Missouri.

Obama made history by becoming the first African-American to win the presidency in 2008, but history may not be on his side this time. Three presidents who unsuccessfully sought a second term since 1976 – Republican Gerald Ford in 1976, Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1980, and Republican George H.W. Bush – all presided over economies with unemployment rates that were lower than the 8.2 percent unemployment rate today and all but one with economic growth rates higher than the current 1.7 percent increase in GDP.

Last weekend, senior Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod argued that Obama must be judged on the progress he has made over the past three years, rather than on the latest series of unemployment and economic indicators.  "There's no doubt that we walked into the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression," Axelrod told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. " Everybody agrees on that."

But not everyone shares Axelrod's enthusiasm over Obama's economic stewardship. Only 44 percent of Americans approve of Obama's handling of the economy, while 50 percent disapprove, according to the latest survey by American Research Group in March. That was a vast improvement over the January results, when only 35 percent approved and 60 percent disapproved.

A total of 41 percent of Americans say the national economy is getting better and 52 percent say the national economy will be better a year from now, which are the highest ratings in a year, according to ARG. And 36 percent of Americans say their household financial situations will be better in a year.

With Americans fixated on the economy, jobs and gasoline prices, Republicans see a path to victory this fall if the current economic picture remains fairly static through November. In another sign that the GOP is beginning to come together after one of the most divisive primary campaigns in memory, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., yesterday endorsed Romney and offered effusive praise.

"I think Mitt Romney has a set of economic policies that can put America back to work" in contrast to Obama's "failed policies," Boehner said.  And in a display of bravado, Romney offered Obama some unsolicited advice in an interview with Diane Sawyer of  ABC News: "Start packing."

This all goes to explain why the embarrassing scandals at the GSA – the federal government's chief property manager – and within the vaunted Secret Service are unwelcome news for the Obama administration. Investigators now suspect that as many as 21 prostitutes were brought by Secret Service and military personnel to the Hotel Caribe in Cartagena, Colombia, last week during a night of carousing, a dramatic increase in the number of women previously disclosed by government officials, according to news  reports.

At his daily briefing, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Obama has "confidence" in Sullivan, and will await the results of an internal investigation before weighing in further on the future of the agency.

It's far too soon to say  whether either the Secret Service or GSA scandals  will hurt Obama or the Democrats in the fall campaign, although it's safe to say they won't help. "Any time the government is seen to misbehave or underperform on a president's watch, I think it does have an effect, fairly or unfairly," said Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C. "I don't suspect it will have a major impact, but certainly builds on the narrative  things are not going well."

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the Republican Senate campaign committee, said he doubts Obama's critics could "pin" the Secret Service's major breach of conduct and security on the president, but that the GSA scandal is a different matter. The GSA inspector general testified on Monday that he is investigating possible bribery and kickbacks in the agency, as well as the absurd amounts spent on an October 2010 conference at the M Resort Spa Casino in Las Vegas.

"I think unfortunately it's a metaphor for what people see in Washington," Cornyn said. "And I think that could have some negative effect [on the president] although I think it's more of a perception issue. I mean, people are just mad about the federal government. They see it spending money recklessly, and that's certainly consistent with that theme. So I could see there could be some serious fallout over it."

Democrats, of course, see it differently. "This has nothing to do with [political] parties," said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington State, the Senate Democratic campaign committee chairperson. "I mean everyone understands that the Secret Service is nonpartisan, and obviously there is an investigation going on. No one should jump to conclusions."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada seemed to be more concerned about the fact that Las Vegas might be tarnished by the GSA than any long-term political fallout.  He told reporters yesterday that the GSA scandal "has nothing to do with Las Vegas, it has everything to do with stupidity and lack of common sense."

More from the Fiscal Times


Apr 20, 2012 8:32AM
What re-election lead???  Obama is trailing in every poll, and this after a brutal GOP primary.
Apr 20, 2012 5:34PM
Afirmative action President trickels down. He has no respect for America so his underlings have no respect. Sad for America. We all lose.
Apr 23, 2012 10:27AM
By my count, it's a whole lot more than TWO scandals.  Convienent of MSN to forget about Fast and Furious, Solyndra, the Keystone Pipeline debacle, Obama's campagne bundlers getting fat government contracts at the taxpayer's expense, his corrupt justice department, Communist Van Jones previously of his administration, his association with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, and the list goes on.  If the liberal media wasn't covering for this president, he would have been toast a long time ago.  Oops, in this morning's news, the GAO finds that the $8B Obama has advanced for the Medicare Advantage program is nothing more than another waste of taxpayer $ whose only effect will be to hide the cuts to the Medicare program imposed under Obamacare.  What will tomorrow bring?
Apr 22, 2012 11:55AM
The way I look at it... Obama will keep spending and spending borrowed money that will have to be paid back eventually... Romney at least was a businessman who has a better idea of economics.
Apr 22, 2012 5:00PM
Harry Reid worried about Las Vegas fallout ???? the same Reid who hand walk the chinese thru D.C. right after being reelected by the unemployed in NV. The Harry Reid who was pleading for stimulus funds for companies in China. He 's worried about fallout now, why didn't he worry about all those unemployed then ..... I miss Vegas, but I will not go back until Reid is out of D.C.. He doesn't care, nor do I...
Apr 24, 2012 8:51PM
It is absolutely amazing that anyone can believe anything Barack Hussein Obama says at this point in time.  He dodges the tough questions that deserve answers and plays to friendly crowds like idealistic college students who haven't had to work and pay taxes yet.  And when his administration pulls a Democratic strategist out of the hat and her comments backfire he throws her under the bus.  He is truly a piece of work.  I'm not nuts about Romney but he knows how to run a business and make a business profitable and that is what the government needs at this point in time.
Apr 22, 2012 2:57PM
Funny how the repub choice is flip flop. Flip flop has about no chance to beat Obama. How about the one that the media chooses to ignore and say does not have a chance yet his campaign is still thriving. How about someone that does not flip flop on his agenda. Someone that knows how to create jobs without spending billions in taxpayer dollars that we have to pay back at some point . Ron Paul 2012
Only 2 scandals????

What about "GSA Round Two" 

 "Fast and Furious"?


The "Corn Husker's Kickback"???

The "Louisiana Purchase"???

Apr 26, 2012 7:51AM

The more I watch Mr. Obama the more he looks like Jimmy Carter to me and his presidency. He seems like an honorable man with the best of intentions BUT just doesn't seem to be able to get the job done. The rhetoric is getting a bit old and despite proclamations of things getting better...they are not. I find the lack of discipline a bit troubling... i.e prostitutes with Secret Service guarding the President.....what?. And for the life of me how officials involved in the banking "meltdown" , like the folks at Washington Mutual, Citi and the like, remain "unscathed"....mystifies me. Not one criminal indictment... Does Sarbanes-Oxley mean nothing?

 I remember all too clearly Ronald Reagen asking ... "are you better now then you were 4 years ago?". Carter had no answer....I don't think Obama has either....

Apr 26, 2012 11:46AM

JestJack- you couldn't be more on the mark.  Jimmy Carter is a perfect comparison, and of course it's been made before over the last year or so.  Mr. Obama was elected by college students, assorted lefties and the Michael Moore "War is Not the Answer" crowd, who don't have the slightest clue about how the world works.  His election was a reaction against George W., pure and simple, and due to the fact that he is black.  I have been saying for many years that he is simply in over his head with the sharks in Washington.  A nice, well-meaning man, who thinks if he makes a speech, what he wants to have happen will happen.


As for the rest of the world, are you serious?  The several times that Benjamin Netanyahu has been here, his appearances with our President look like me talking to my little brother.  "I'm really sorry, Bebe, I didn't mean it.  What I meant to say, was, er, ah....oops."  I can imagine what goes on after the cameras are off.  What fantasyland is this guy living in?  The mullahs in Iran have been playing rope-a-dope for four years now.  His half-hearted attempts at a foreign policy have everyone rolling in the aisles in Tehran. 


I shudder to think what this country will look like in the fall of 2016 after four more years of this high school student in the White House.  Yikes.  Regards-



Apr 25, 2012 6:51PM
For those of you saying we need Romney because he knows how to run a business, please tell me one plan he has to fix what's happening. Give me one option that he has offered (besides cutting spending on everything except defense, which every single economist would say is a horrible idea) that would add jobs and fix the economy. You can't because he hasn't. He's gone from bashing Santorum and Gingrich to bashing Obama, all the while not actually saying anything of importance. I can't wait for the debates when Obama blows him out of the water and exposes him for the fraud he really is.
Apr 23, 2012 12:10PM
Obama trailing in every poll...  What ?   More lies told by liars, to fools who need to be lied to.
Apr 21, 2012 10:55AM

Makes me laugh.  Romney sold his soul to get the nomination, going 360 on everything he said in 2004 and even back to 1997.  Yet people would vote for him?  You cannot trust anything he says.  Blows my mind. Obama at least tried to do what he said, but road blocked at every turn. I may not like everything about Obama, but then, never like everything about any of them. But I know a credible person when I hear and see one.  And...it is not Romney.

Apr 20, 2012 10:12AM
Like he was personally involved? He can't lose.
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