the popularity of unconventional politicians such as New Jersey's
blunt-spoken Republican governor, Chris Christie, or Elizabeth
Warren, Harvard professor, Democratic contender for the Senate and
scourge of Wall Street and the financial industry.
The rebellious mood also helps to explain the weird contest for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination: the refusal to embrace the eminently qualified Mitt Romney and the flirtation with a string of alternatives, including the erstwhile pizza magnate Herman Cain, whose appeal, it would seem, not even a sexual harassment scandal can diminish.
The election is still a year off, and its outcome utterly unpredictable. In normal times, an approval rating of barely 45 percent and polls showing 75 percent of Americans believe the country is "on the wrong track" would spell big trouble for Obama. But, as the old sports adage runs, you can't beat somebody with nobody.
One thing, however, is sure. In this dark American moment, the stage is set for a populist. It could be the incumbent president, lashing heartless Republicans for their pandering to the rich. It could be a Republican who convinces his countrymen that Obama is leading the country to ruin. Or could a third-party candidate somehow become the outlet for the general exasperation with the status quo?
Don't write off the notion entirely. After all, the eccentric Ross Perot launched his candidacy only six months before election day in 1992, and won almost 20 percent of the vote -- in an age when America's problems were a 10th of what they are today. One way or another, 2012 could yet be the "watershed" election that 2008 was not.
RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE
9 Iowa caucus
14 Nevada caucus
17 New Hampshire primary
21 South Carolina primary
31 Florida primary
7 Colorado and North Dakota caucuses; Georgia and Missouri primaries
21 Wisconsin primary
28 Arizona and Michigan primaries
6 Idaho caucus; Georgia, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Vermont primaries
10 Guam, Kansas, and Virgin Islands caucuses
13 Hawaii caucus; Alabama and Mississippi primaries
20 Illinois primary
24 Louisiana primary
3 Washington DC and Maryland primaries
24 Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island primaries
8 Indiana, North Carolina, West Virginia primaries
15 Nebraska and Oregon primaries
22 Arkansas, Idaho and Kentucky primaries
5 California, New Jersey, Montana, New Mexico and South Dakota primaries
12 Ohio primary
26 Utah primary
40th National Republican Convention in Florida
3 National Convention, Charlotte, North Carolina
6 Election of the President of the United States
Governor of Massachusetts 2003-7. Ran for president in 2008, and now one of the two front-runners. Wants to lower corporate income tax, repeal Obamacare, cut public spending. Reputation as flip-flopper. Pro-life. Mormon.
Ex-CEO of Godfathers pizza chain, and outsider who has leapt into lead. Revelations that he was once accused by two women of sexual harassment have not derailed campaign so far. Opposes government intervention in the economy through stimulus and bailouts, proposed much-criticised 9-9-9 flat tax plan which has helped his rise.
Governor of Texas 2000-now. Supports minimal government low taxes and low spending, and repeal of Obamacare. Does not believe in gay marriage. Strongly pro-life. Never lost an election.
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