Opinion: Could Obama Buyer's Remorse in NH, Iowa Leave Room for a Challenge on the Left?

I wrote an Des Moines Register op-ed piece this week that has caused the hornets to leave their nests!

I recently had drinks with respected senior Democrats in New Hampshire. They were Barack Obama supporters in 2008 and now have serious buyer’s remorse. They were alarmed at the lack of leadership, which they feel Obama showed while he still had a substantial majority in the House and Senate.

The conclusions my friends drew during that conversation started to alarm me.

“New Hampshire was right," one friend said. "Hillary Clinton would have made a better president.”

We talked about how the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primary election results often diverge.

“I think we need a write-in candidate for the 2012 Iowa Democratic caucuses," the other friend said. "Hillary would be my choice.” My jaw dropped.

This disappointment and outright anger that President Obama has triggered in his own trenches should be very alarming to his reelection team. He's already experiencing a rebellion in the black community over his policies - remember that many black leaders never trusted him in the first place and they are now saying, “see I told you so!”

One black politician friend of mine even used the dreaded description of "Uncle Tom" to describe the president, which I found very revealing.

"Obama bailed out the white guys on Wall Street but forgot the working class, especially minorities” he grumbled, then added, “Who vacations on Martha’s Vineyard in the middle of this mess!?”

Challenges to incumbent presidents from their own party DO occur, but success is difficult. In recent history Eugene McCarthy ran against Lyndon Johnson in 1968, campaigning on the premise that LBJ was too conservative. Johnson decided not to seek re-election.

Ronald Reagan ran against Gerald Ford in 1976, saying Ford was too liberal. Ford lost the presidency to Jimmy Carter.

Sen. Ted Kennedy ran against Jimmy Carter in 1980 because he claimed Carter was too conservative, and Carter lost. Pat Buchanan ran to the right of George H.W. Bush in 1992 because Bush, and Bush was defeated.

The lesson is that presidents who are challenged within their own party are often wounded politically and lose the election to the other party. A serious challenge to an incumbent president is a canary in the political coalmine. Something is wrong.

The re-election of a sitting president requires an iron discipline and unflagging support from his own party leaders and the party voting base plus a substantial percentage of independent, no-party voters. In spite of his impressive fund-raising successes, President Obama may have trouble.

From where I sit, many, many Democrats in Iowa who are deeply troubled by Obama’s policies and lack of firm leadership against the Republicans. Whether they will dare to launch a caucus write-in insurgency for Hillary Clinton or some other Democrat is still uncertain. But even just talk of that should get the attention of the White House.

Steffen W. Schmidt, University Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Iowa State University, author of 11 books, 40 years analyzing the Iowa Caucuses, Des Moines Register and WNYC “It’s a Free Country” blogger, CNN en Español analyst and commentator and Associate Editor of Insider Iowa.