Washington: History repeats itself, until it doesn`t. That musty truism is worth remembering as pundits speculate on whether the lumbering economy will doom the re-election hopes of President Barack Obama, who has shown a knack for beating odds and breaking barriers.
Clearly, some important trends are working against him. The latest evidence is yesterday`s lackluster jobs report, which found the nation`s unemployment rate stuck at 8.2 per cent.
Franklin D Roosevelt was the last president to win re-election with so much joblessness. Voters ousted Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H W Bush when the jobless rate was well under 8 per cent.
And it`s not as if Obama can divert the nation`s attention from the economy, which has dominated the election from the start. His signature domestic achievement, the 2010 health care overhaul, is a mixed political blessing, uniting Republicans against him. Voters show little interest in how his administration wound down the Iraq war and killed Osama bin Laden.
And yet Obama runs even with, or slightly ahead of, Republican rival Mitt Romney in poll after poll. Campaign strategists debate the reasons.
They might include Obama`s personal likeability, gaps in Romney`s strategy, or Americans` grudging acceptance of a new normal in which millions of jobs are gone for good, and no single person is responsible.
If high unemployment "was a killer, he`d already be dead," said Republican consultant and pollster Mike McKenna. "The survey data tells you he`s not dead."
There`s a problem with applying historical precedents and conventional wisdom to Obama: He sometimes defies them.
Before the 2008 campaign took shape, how many people thought America would elect a black president? Or that a man four years removed from the Illinois Legislature would outmaneuver Bill and Hillary Clinton`s political machine?
Besides, no senator had been elected president in more than four decades.
Obama`s political resilience has left Republicans quarreling over how best to combat him. Romney has largely adopted a play-it-safe approach. It suggests he and his aides think the president is on a slow but steady decline and there`s no need to take big gambles.
Yesterday`s job report might bolster that view, as economists say a dramatic turnaround before Election Day is highly unlikely.