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Election 2012: How another Obama term might be different

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"This is a guy who came in here wanting to do big things," Mr. Fenn says. "Everybody thinks he's wedded to some labor union or some senior citizens organization or some environmental group, but if they think he's going to knee-jerk his way through a second term, I don't think so."

And as much as Republicans insist a reelected Obama would feel free to let his true "leftie" self run wild (since he won't face voters again), the more probable scenario is that he would feel less constrained by his liberal base and would be willing to cut deals with the Republicans, analysts say.

"He may end up really ticking off folks on the Democratic side," says Fenn.

Obvious opportunities for dealmaking early in Obama's second term would center on deficit reduction and tax reform. But voters wouldn't know that from the campaign. Both Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney have only outlined goals, staying vague on details and allowing each to spin the other's plans in equally unappetizing ways.

The better bet is to read Bob Woodward's new book, "The Price of Politics," which shows how far Obama was willing to go in the grand bargain negotiations of summer 2011 – particularly on the restructuring of Medicare, the biggest driver of the nation's unsustainable fiscal path.

According to Mr. Woodward, Obama and House Republicans were willing to raise the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67, but couldn't agree on how quickly to phase in the change. Another negotiation, between Vice President Joe Biden and House majority leader Eric Cantor, contemplated higher premiums for wealthier seniors.

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