Should Obama Face a Primary Challenge in '12?

The movement is small, and considered a long shot, but there is no denying that liberals and progressive Democrats are increasingly talking about challenging Barack Obama’s right to an uncontested primary for a second term as president.

In a Sunday article in Salon, Matt Stoller, columnist and senior fellow at the progressive Roosevelt Institute, wasted little time in getting to this serious point:

“The Democrat Party should be the party of pay raises and homes, but under Obama it has become the party of pay cuts and foreclosures,” Stoller said in his column. “Getting rid of Obama as the head of the party is the first step in reverting to form.”

“Obama has ruined the Democratic Party. The 2010 wipeout was an electoral catastrophe so bad you’d have to go back to 1894 to find comparable losses,” wrote Stoller.

Stoller is not alone. Very left-leaning New York Times commentator Frank Bruni opined over the weekend: “Instead of talking about how smart politicians are or aren’t, we should have an infinitely more useful, meaningful conversation about whether we share and respect their values and whether they have shown themselves to be effective. Someone who rates high on both counts is someone to rally unreservedly around. Right now, neither Perry nor Obama fits that double bill.”

Referring to Bruni’s comments, independent blogger Russ Smith asserted: “The ‘Acela’ cognoscenti ought not take that paragraph lightly, for not only is Bruni implying that Perry will be the Republican presidential candidate, but that Obama’s a failed president. When a Democratic president loses the op-ed braintrust of The New York Times, the jig is up.”

As the political strategy for the presidency goes, the first term is made for implementing your policies; the second term is for defining your legacy. However, the opposite may hold true for President Obama as he struggles to not allow the first three years of his first term to be his legacy. Many believe it already has.

Yet Kyle Kondik, a political analyst with the University of Virginia Center for Politics, doesn’t see a strong primary challenge in Obama’s future.

“Even though President Obama’s poll ratings are low, his personal likeability is still relatively high,” said Kondik. “I don’t see anyone in the Democratic Party who could put a viable campaign together at this point. If anyone could, it would be Hillary Clinton and I don’t see that happening.”

“The difference in Carter and Obama is that the Democratic base never liked Carter,” Kondik said. “Even though Democrats are frustrated with Obama, they genuinely like him and want desperately for him to succeed.”

Another prominent GOP elder told The New York Daily News, “Jimmy Carter was a lousy president and a lousy candidate. Bush 43 was a solid president but a poor candidate. Obama is a great candidate but a lousy president.”

Nevertheless, Democrats and left-leaning publications are steadily growing impatient with Obama.

But if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton doesn’t step forward – and most Democratic analysts say that is highly unlikely – then who else could wage an effective challenge to President Obama?

Some liberals suggest a "favorite son" scenario. In his article, Stoller mentions Sen. Tom Harkin (D-La.) would be a good choice to get party insiders talking about change, principally by running and winning the Iowa primary. Vermont’s Bernie Sanders could do the same in New Hampshire, thus launching a debate about who these winners should cast their support toward.

But Kondik asserts that scenario would be unlikely. He argues leftist liberals like Vermont’s Sanders would hardly excite a mid-western primary, conservative Democrat, to take up arms against Obama on Super Tuesday.

President Obama’s jobs speech on Thursday may be a telling moment for both his candidacy and his presidency. Yet few Democrats are expecting very much substance in the speech. However, if the economy and the unemployment rate do not move upward in the next few months, Obama could certainly join former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Carter in making a trio of living one-termers.

The question remains, did the first three years of Obama’s first term really define his legacy?