If the US presidential elections were taking place on the first Tuesday in October, Kenyans could confidently start rolling out the red carpet for Barack Obama’s visit to his father’s homeland during his second term in the White House.
The Democratic President is pulling ahead of his Republican challenger Mitt Romney in polls in most of the dozen states that will likely decide the election.
Mr Obama is also outpacing the former Massachusetts governor in the fundraising race with about twice as much cash on hand — nearly $90 million — as Mr Romney.
That edge could prove decisive as the candidates focus their television advertising budgets on the 12 battleground states.
But the election actually takes place on the first Tuesday in November. And the six weeks remaining until polling day offer Mr Romney an ample opportunity for victory in what remains a close contest.
A good chance for the Republican will be presented on Wednesday, October 3 — the date of the first of three scheduled presidential debates.
A large national audience, including millions of undecided or “swing” voters will be watching as Mr Romney seeks to saddle President Obama with responsibility for the continued weakness of the US economy.
Mr Romney will also try to erase the impression recently created by his critical and seemingly dismissive comments. (READ: Romney rocked by secret video)
“There are 47 per cent of the people who will vote for the President no matter what,” Mr Romney says in a videotaped speech from last May that was posted on the Internet a week ago.
These are voters, he continues, “who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them .... My job is not to worry about those people,” he tells the attendees at a fundraising event.
“I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Mr Romney’s remarks ignited furore as critics pointed out that the 47 per cent who pay no federal income tax include millions of retired Americans and US soldiers in combat zones.
Commentators further noted that even those exempted from income tax payments due to their poverty still pay significant sums in other forms of taxation. Mr Romney’s remarks might sink his hopes of replacing Mr Obama in the Oval Office.
Many of those undecided “want to vote against Obama, but they haven’t quite come to the point where they’re going to vote for Romney,” Republican strategist Dick Wadhams said in an interview with the New York Times.
But there are still some sizable obstacles in Mr Obama’s path. Most prominent is the stubbornly high unemployment rate.
In fact, a sitting president has never managed to win re-election when the percentage of jobless Americans has been anywhere close to its current level.
Republicans are thus especially frustrated by the edge President Obama enjoys in polls in the western state of Nevada, which seldom supports Democratic presidential candidates and which today has the highest unemployment rate — 12 per cent — of any of the 50 states.
One element accounting for Mr Obama’s comparatively strong position is the tendency of many Americans to view him in more positive personal terms than they view Mr Romney.
Mr Obama is not seen as particularly warm, but his eloquence and earnestness contrast favourably among voters with Mr Romney’s sometimes-stumbling speech and occasionally haughty manner.
What seems to be a clear advantage for President Obama could easily evaporate, however. The race will probably tighten again — if for no other reason than the media’s preference for an exciting contest.