Stay tuned ... you may get a summer break, but the news doesn't. Here are some stories to keep an eye on.[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
1. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Now that Mitt Romney appears headed for the Republican nomination, attention is shifting to the general election against his Democratic opponent, President Barack Obama, in November. After trying to appeal to more-conservative Republicans, who vote heavily in the primaries, Romney may now adjust his message to attract middle-of-the-road independent voters--who are often the deciding factor in presidential elections.
While the candidates will certainly debate foreign policy, national security, and other issues, the election looks likely to hinge on the economy: If the recovery picks up steam, voters are more likely to give the president a second term; if not, they may decide new leadership is needed in Washington.
A big decision for Romney will be choosing a running mate. Although the vice presidency is often mocked, even by men who've held the job--John Adams famously called it "the most insignificant office" ever invented--running mates can make a difference. Senator John McCain's selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in 2008, for example, did him no good in the race against Obama and Joe Biden.
Possibilities for Romney's No. 2 spot include Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Senator Rob Portman of Ohio. But nothing, including Romney's nomination, will be official until the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, which begins August 27. (The Democrats are expected to renominate President Obama the following week at their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.)
2. THE ECONOMY
Technically, the economy is recovering, but to the 13 million Americans still unemployed, it doesn't feel that way.
Both the stock market and consumer spending have rebounded in recent months, giving economists reason for optimism. But the housing market, a key part of the economy, remains weak. And businesses seem hesitant to hire new workers, so the unemployment rate remains around 8 percent. If gas prices continue their climb during summer vacation season, it could hamper the recovery: When drivers pay more at the pump, they have less money to spend elsewhere.
3. THE MIDDLE EAST
Tensions are running high with Iran, which continues to defy the U.S. and the United Nations by pursuing its nuclear program. A new round of tough economic sanctions will take full effect this summer; the idea is to force Iran back to the negotiating table.
But Israel, which considers Iran's hardline Islamic government a threat to its existence, could take military action on its own to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. An attack could provoke a wider Middle East war.
In Syria, a fragile cease-fire between the government and rebel groups appeared to be wobbling just days after it took effect in April. Will President Bashar al-Assad finally step down and end three decades of dictatorship by his family, as rebels--and foreign governments, including the U.S.--are demanding?
In Egypt, more than a year after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in the early days of the Arab Spring, presidential elections are planned for this month, as work continues on a new constitution.
After more than 10 years of war, President Obama has said the U.S. will hand over responsibility to Afghan troops by 2014. But the situation on the ground is far from stable: In April, a series of coordinated attacks by the Taliban around the country highlighted how volatile Afghanistan remains.
5. HEALTH-CARE RULING
The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the health-care law by the end of June. Twenty-six states are challenging the law's requirement that all Americans have health insurance or pay a fine. If the Court overturns the law, which is considered President Obama's most significant domestic legislative achievement, it could have huge political implications--especially coming just a few months before the election.
6. THE LONDON OLYMPICS
The Summer Olympics in London will be sure to grab lots of headlines. Women's boxing will make its debut as an Olympic sport after being banned in many countries for much of the 20th century. Among the hopefuls is Quanitta Underwood of Seattle, Washington.
U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps made history in 2008 by winning eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics. He will have to overcome a challenge from teammate Ryan Lochte to win gold this year.
South African runner Oscar Pistorius is trying to become the first double-amputee to compete in the Olympics (see the Jan. 2, 2012, issue of Upfront). Pistorius runs on high-tech prosthetics; he has until the end of June to qualify for the London Games, which begin July 27.