Obama 2nd term: Leverage, lessons learned, legacy
By Ben Feller, AP White House Correspondent
WASHINGTON (AP) - If he wins, President Barack Obama would try to apply the leverage of his victory toward a lasting economic revival on his terms, guided by political lessons learned and the legacy he wants.
Because Obama has made his race against Mitt Romney about two competing visions for the nation, he would interpret a victory as a mandate to pursue economic recovery and debt reduction his way, adamant about raising taxes on families making more than $250,000.
With jobs still in soaring demand, he would push to steer money toward energy development, education and worker training, manufacturing support and infrastructure.
The contours of Obama's second term would be formed by how his first one ends in December. The outcome of efforts by Obama and Congress to avoid an economic whammy of spending cuts and tax increases - all set for January - will influence whether they could reach a much farther-reaching debt-reduction deal later. Obama wants to get one done in the first six months of 2013.
That, in turn, would shape everything else.
In the first year of a new term, Obama would also plunge into one of the big unmet promises of his first term, immigration reform. He would put his capital into fixing a complex and politically explosive problem, meaning finding the votes and the path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants, all without mass deportations or amnesty for those who broke the law.
Starting this time without a gut-wrenching recession and wars in two countries, Obama would be freer to pursue the agenda he wants.
Yet the forces working against him would not be going anywhere: formidable opposition from Republicans, fatigue within the White House and the fractured politics of the nation.
On foreign affairs, Obama's priorities include familiar threats, most urgently the international drive to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. A second Obama term would mean closing out the war in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, deepening U.S. engagement across Asia, targeting terror networks and keeping a post-Arab Spring Middle East from unraveling.
For all his ideas, Obama will need some new people around him.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner plan to leave. It is widely expected that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will not stay on for a second term.
Change is also expected within the top staff ranks of the White House, where loyalty is rewarded and outsiders have had trouble piercing the bubble.
For all the chants of four more years, a second-term president like Obama would really get less than two years to swing for big change at home. Then lame-duck realities set in, power starts to slip and attention shifts to the next election. In his favor, he would never again need to worry about getting re-hired by voters.
Obama's personal style is unlikely to differ. America knows him. He prides himself on his steadiness.
What he does plan to change is the way in which he pulls the American people into his personal political process. After operating in emergency legislative mode in the first half of his term, and then seeing his party get a midterm drubbing, Obama seemed to realize he was personally disconnected from precisely the people he was trying to help.
"The most important lesson I've learned is that you can't change Washington from the inside. You can only change it from the outside," Obama said in reflecting on his first four years. "So something that I'd really like to concentrate on in my second term is being in a much more constant conversation with the American people so that they can put pressure on Congress."
Those people would see a president who is bound to look a little grayer and sound more reflective across another term, as he has in his first. He already claims a rank of seniority on the world stage, where elections and political turmoil have led to major leadership changes from Europe to Asia.
And the team surrounding Obama each day will look different, too.
Historians who know Obama know he is mindful of leaving a consequential legacy. An immigration overhaul and perhaps tax changes would help cement a legacy built on his health care law, an economic recovery, Wall Street regulation, the killing of Osama bin Laden and the appointment of two Supreme Court justices so far.
Trouble is, Obama is almost certain to be operating in the same divided government that stymied him in the second half of his term. Republicans have a chance to win control of the Senate or at least shrink the Democrats' margin. And the House appears likely to remain safely Republican in the coming election.
Obama's political calculus is that his re-election itself would force Republicans to heed the American people and work with him because they will no longer need to try to defeat him. On a matter such as immigration, he is betting that Republicans will have to compromise with him or risk alienating Hispanics and undermining their party for decades.
It is all assuming a lot on his part.
Romney would bring CEO eye to White House
By Steve Peoples, Associated Press
BOSTON (AP) - Should he prevail Tuesday, Mitt Romney would bring a CEO's eye to the White House and a policy agenda based on a general set of principles and focused more on data than ideology.
He'll take charge of one of the world's largest bureaucracies as it faces a weak economy, swirling international tensions and intense polarization. And he doesn't plan to wait long to push his priorities, though he has yet to outline specific plans to address the country's challenges.
Chief on the "To-Do" list, out of necessity: dealing with the so-called fiscal cliff of tax increases and budget cuts. He also promises to start repealing and replacing the president's signature health care law and overhauling the nation's tax system. And he would likely have to work with a divided Congress to accomplish it all.
To get things done in messy Washington, Romney will rely on skills honed during a quarter century as he led a company, a state and an Olympic Games, earning a reputation among critics and backers alike as a manager who distributed responsibility to a small group of loyalists and coolly demanded detailed results.
But that's where the agreement ends.
Those closest to him describe him as deliberative, results-driven and cool under pressure.
"He wants to be able to measure things," says Kerry Healey, who was Romney's lieutenant governor for four years in Massachusetts and is now a campaign adviser. "And I have never seen him angry."
Longtime critics say he's slow to act, aloof and eager to avoid confrontation.
"It's fair to say he left the governor's office with very few, if any, new friends," says Phil Johnston, a Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman during Romney's term as governor. "He essentially operated as a loner, very much in a bubble, dealt well neither with Democrats nor Republicans."
Don't expect Romney to be a leader who will inspire those he governs with emotional speeches. He is deeply loyal and surrounds himself with a tight inner circle that has been at his side, in many cases, since his days as Massachusetts governor. He lacks the social instinct that allowed presidents like Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to connect with people and bring them together.
Indeed, it's almost always business for this man.
"He likes PowerPoint presentations because he prefers the simplicity," said longtime adviser Eric Fehrnstrom. "And if you're going to write a memo, he prefers that it be kept to one page."
While he has yet to release many details, the former CEO is crafting a comprehensive priority list.
Romney has assembled a growing transition team based in Washington - internally dubbed "the Readiness Project" - that's pre-emptively crafting an aggressive legislative agenda for his first 200 days. The team, using government-issued emails and office space, is quietly working with government officials and Capitol Hill to develop plans to prevent massive defense cuts and the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts.
Beyond that, the Republican's opening agenda includes approving the Keystone XL pipeline, initiating plans to label China a currency manipulator, crafting a bill to cut non-security discretionary spending by 5 percent and pursuing an as-of-yet-undrafted tax overhaul bill. He has also outlined other priorities he'll use to measure his progress - and of those around him - just as he did in Massachusetts.
Romney has faced repeated calls for specifics of his tax plan in particular. He's promising to cut tax rates for all without adding to the federal deficit. He says he'll eliminate or limit some personal deductions and exemptions, but won't say what those might be.
It's an aggressive agenda for a man who has been slow to build alliances on Capitol Hill, despite his near-daily campaign trail promises of recent weeks to work with both parties if elected.
"For those things to happen it's going to require something that Washington talks about, but hasn't done in a long, long time. And that's truly reaching across the aisle," Romney said at a Florida rally this week.
His campaign would not say if his transition team has begun reaching out to Democrats on Capitol Hill. It may be a tough task for a man who has struggled at times to win over even members of his own, fractured party, and, who as Massachusetts governor, had an insular reputation.
Personal relationships aside, aides describe a man who embraces difficult decisions - not that he always makes them quickly. To the dismay of some staffers, he delayed the selection of running mate Paul Ryan, the author of a controversial congressional budget plan, until after he returned from an overseas tour this summer. It was a pick that many aides privately opposed, but publicly embraced after it was finalized.
"Sometimes he'll sleep on a big decision," Fehrnstrom says. "He's not prone to snap judgments. He'll consider all the data."