Obama needs to lift his game

Until last week, it had not occurred to me that Barack Obama might be a one-term president of the United States.

Sure, the American economy has not performed well.

Yes, the hope surrounding Mr Obama has not translated into much achievement on the ground.

Average Americans are struggling to see how their lives and prospects are better than they were four years ago.

There is disappointment and disillusionment that the warm feelings around a fresh approach to politics were seemingly misplaced.

The president's Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, must be able to turn some of this to his advantage.

As I heard one conservative American talk show host say last week, Mr Obama is not in a position where he can run for re-election on his record.

But I had always taken it as more or less a given he would win a second term because he is charismatic, an eloquent speaker and he looks good on television.

He is able to use rhetoric to unite people. He generally oozes confidence and competence.

Mr Romney was a sort-of default candidate for the Republican Party, which couldn't come up with anyone better. The backing he had was largely unenthusiastic, though he has money in his favour.

Time will tell if the first presidential debate was a game-changer; what we know is that it is now game on. It has been widely declared Mr Romney won the first debate, and this will bring energy to his campaign. But polling indicates he is not yet a good bet for snatching the presidency.

Mr Obama will know he can't afford another lacklustre performance.

We can expect him to be sharper in the second debate; what will be more telling is how well Mr Romney backs up. If he can put together another convincing performance, the election could be a cliffhanger.

Mr Obama understands the pressure has been ramped up.

Even after some helpful economic numbers turned up, he appeared to be on the back foot. There was an edge to his voice. He seemed genuinely irritated.

It might be the sort of hurt pride that is generated by a lack of solid debate preparation.

If Mr Obama went into the debate a touch underdone or complacent, we can be sure he won't make the same mistake next time.

It will be up to Mr Romney to step up again and show he has what it takes to win the White House.

Negotiations are clearly at a delicate point at the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter, and it's hard to make head or tail of what's going on down there.

Jobs are at stake if the smelter closes and the owner of the smelter, Rio Tinto, has warned this is a possibility if it can't get a cheaper electricity deal out of state-owned Meridian.

The Government would have to be a naive outfit to show keenness to get involved at this stage. It struck me as a little odd that some Leftist politicians were calling for this.

Assuming State-owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall accepts the word of Meridian that it hasn't walked away from talks, it's not obvious what he is meant to do.

He is presumably expected to seek assurances from Meridian that it remains serious about pursuing a solution, but it would appear he has done this. Why else would he receive advice Meridian had not walked away from discussions with Rio Tinto?

On the other hand, Labour economic development spokesman David Cunliffe said he had been told by "reputable sources" talks had broken down.

And Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union Southland organiser Trevor Hobbs said he was told by smelter union members talks had been unsuccessful.

Talks may not have gone well, but Meridian insists it is "continuing to talk with all stakeholders".

For as long as Meridian says talks are continuing, the Government has no business meddling in the affair.

Grant Miller is the Manawatu Standard's head of content and a politics junkie.

Manawatu Standard