“If you can’t be a good example, then at least be a terrible warning.”

These ominous words seem to sum up the Republican presidential hopefuls currently vying for the GOP nomination and a chance to beat President Barack Obama in November 2012.

The battle for the White House is on, and it’s no longer a choice between Obama’s progressive policies and the do-nothing Congress. The race has finally taken shape: Romney and Gingrich have emerged as the most likely candidates, and the American voter has been warned by their terrible examples. They can finally see the forest for the trees. The alternatives to Obama are featured menu items that not even independents or moderate Republicans have a taste for.

Until recently, the president’s approval ratings were stuck at anemic levels. The effective war of words waged against his health care reform bill (a.k.a. ‘Obamacare’) was having a detrimental effect. And the incessant attacks by conservatives undermining his leadership skills and personal integrity were taking an unmitigated toll. Everyday a new headline declared the end of a presidency which in many ways had only just begun.

But the tides are changing.

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Republican candidates have debated on every major network: covering the economy on CNBC and Bloomberg Television, foreign policy on CNN and domestic issues at the Reagan Library on MSNBC. The field has narrowed. Pawlenty threw in his hat after a less-than stellar showing in the Iowa straw polls and Herman Cain’s train wrecked amidst numerous allegations of sexual impropriety.

Bachmann, Huntsman, and Santorum live to fight another day, but voters don’t seem to be buying it. Rick Perry, likewise, all but admitted his campaign is on life support after he released an offensive television ad ahead of the Iowa Caucus, questioning the faith of gay servicemen and women currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Perry hoped to appeal to Evangelical Christians in Iowa, but forgot the gays in the military that he mentioned were shielding bullets to protect the democratic ideals he claimed to represent. To be fair, Perry — once believed to be the great white hope for the GOP — had never fully recovered from his now notorious brain freeze or his time hunting at Ni**erhead ranch.

The two left standing, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, are battling it out as Newt’s unlikely rise in the polls presents a serious challenge to Romney’s previous frontrunner status. But neither are novices, and have a long record of flip-flops, misstatements and hypocrisy. Romney wins on flip-flops, Newt dominates on offensive rhetoric and undisciplined behavior, while both meet in the middle for being out of touch.

According to the latest NBC/Marist poll President Obama now leads both GOP candidates in South Carolina. As the numbers show, Obama wins in a head-to head battle against Newt Gingrich with 46 percent to Newt’s 42 percent; and the President leads Mitt Romney 45 percent to 42 percent.

The funny thing? No Democratic president has won the state of South Carolina since fellow Southerner Jimmy Carter in 1976. Before that it was JFK in 1960. As such, though a solid Republican safe haven, this is a state that has been a great predictor of Democratic resurgence.
And the bad news for the GOP doesn’t stop there. In Florida, which holds its primary at the end of January, the NBC/Marist poll shows President Obama leading by an even wider margin: 48 percent to 41 percent against Romney and a staggering 12 points lead over Gingrich, (51 percent to 39 percent).

So how do we explain Obama’s resurgence in these two battleground states? It seems to be down to two things: first, a decisive rejection of GOP candidates, for both their style and lack of substance. Secondly, the influential minority vote of African-Americans, in particular, from South Carolina and Latinos in Florida, who remain resilient and energized about the prospect of Barack Obama’s presidency.

Florida, a key battle ground state with crucial electoral votes, provides the best news for Obama. In 2008, the President garnered 57 percent of Florida’s coveted Latino vote, and recent Gallup polls show the president’s approval ratings among Latinos remains near 50 percent, despite slight fluctuations during the heated immigration debates.

African-Americans have shown even less sway. MSNBC’s own Chris Cilliza did an insightful piece for the Washington Post in November entitled, “The Obama Base Problem Myth”, in which he debunked claims that the president’s loyal support from the black community was being affected by negative media coverage and stalemate in Washington.

According to Cilliza, Obama’s 84 percent approval rating among African-Americans and their continued support for the president, makes them the key demographic at play in the 2012 elections. Absent any drops in support among this political class will assure “any sort of widespread base erosion in 2012 unlikely”, Cilliza wrote.

He also pointed out that the real issue Obama faced from his “liberal base support” was whether white, working-class voters, who had traditionally supported Democrats in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, would abandon President Obama given the fact the economy was still struggling and they had not experienced the change that Obama’s hopeful 2008 campaign had promised.

Well this seems to be exactly what the GOP establishment and their Tea Party operatives had been banking on. By framing President Obama as “other”, foreign and a secret-Muslim — always with an undercurrent of racialized insidiousness, the GOP have been hoping to scare white, working class voters back to their own electoral stables. By playing the race-card, they hoped to the win the political game.

But they forgot that class still matters, just as much as race. Independent voters, especially the working and middle-classes, have now seen former House Speaker Newt Gingrich verbally attack poor kids and families, while he collects millions in fees from lobbying and boasts about being paid $60K for an hour’s speech.

Those same working-class whites have had to listen to Mitt Romney, who’s personal wealth is estimated to be $250 million, make flippant $10,000 bets as if that’s standard for everyone during this second Great Depression.

In many ways, President Obama may not be wholly responsible for his own comeback. He’s been able to watch the dogs fight, and reveal their weaknesses. Gingrich and Romney are no longer “generic” GOP candidates. They present real alternatives, which under scrutiny, have proven lackluster.

Obama’s only challenge is to remain true to his values and expand his base support in the face of an aggressive Republican campaign to suppress the vote. As Obama continues to fight for American jobs, deliver foreign policy victories one after the other and appeal to the nation’s highest ideals, his GOP opponents show how little they have common with the rest of us.