Without the Economy, What Does Romney Have Left Against Obama?

If Mitt Romney can no longer attack President Barack Obama on the economy, he doesn't have much else to campaign on.

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks to reporters on Sept. 17, 2012, about the secretly taped video.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks to reporters on Sept. 17, 2012, about the secretly taped video.

Last Friday's new job numbers demonstrate that Barack Obama has started to turn around the economy George W. Bush ran aground.

Don't get me wrong. A 7.8 percent jobless rate is way too high. And the effective jobless rate which includes part-time workers who want full-time work and Americans who have given up hope of ever finding jobs is even worse.

But there have been 31 straight months of growth in the number of private sector jobs. The unemployment rate is still high but there has been a slow and steady decrease in the jobless rate. The picture is even brighter in the battleground states that will pick the next president. In Iowa, the unemployment rate is only 5.5, and it is 5.7 percent in New Hampshire. The unemployment rate would be even lower if the GOP majority in the House of Representatives had approved the president's proposed American Jobs Act which would have given state and local governments the funds to rehire hundreds of thousands of the teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other public employees who had lost their jobs in the last few years.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

One of the striking things about recent national surveys is that Americans now think that Barack Obama is as capable of handling the economy as Mitt Romney. The Battleground national poll conducted for George Washington University last week shows that there are almost as many voters (47 percent) who think President Obama is the best candidate to handle the economy as there are voters (49 percent) who think Romney is the better man for the job.

Romney's business credentials were his ace in the hole but he played his hand poorly. The steady increase in employment has certainly helped restore trust in the president's capacity to nourish the economy but the GOP nominee has undermined his own image as a successful entrepreneur.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

Romney is his own worst enemy. The infamous "47 percent" video exposed Romney's callous disregard for Americans like seniors and veterans who are economically dependent on government benefits. The video clearly had an impact on Romney's standing. The Battleground survey shows the president with a big advantage (56 percent to 40 percent) over Romney for standing up for the middle class.

If the president does win re-election, I suspect that many pundits will say the 47 percent video was the turning point of the campaign. But I think the real pivot point was during the spring when the Obama campaign exposed what Rick Perry called Romney's time at Bain Capital a career in "vulture capitalism." At the time, most Democratic insiders dismissed the anti-Bain preemptive attack ads, but they put Romney on the defensive on the only issue that could help him win the campaign. The president also helped himself when he adopted an aggressive message of economic populism in the fall of 2011 after he finally got frustrated over Republican obstructionism.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Mitt Romney.]

Monday, Romney gave a speech on foreign policy at the Virginia Military Institute. He has talked about national security a lot lately, and the Romney campaign's focus on foreign policy may be an admission by Romney that he has lost the edge he had over the president on the economy. Romney's new emphasis on foreign policy is counterproductive since few voters care about it and because voters give the president good marks for international relations. According to the Battleground poll, few Americans indicate that the wars in the Middle East (4 percent) or terrorism (2 percent) are the most important issues in the campaign.  By a margin of 50 percent to 44 percent, voters choose the president as the candidate best able to handle foreign policy.

A story in Politico on Tuesday indicated that the Romney family is pushing the candidate to de-emphasize his anti-Obama economic rhetoric. But if the GOP candidate stops beating up on the president for his economic performance, what does Romney have left? The answer is not very much.

  • Read Mary Kate Cary: Obama Left '47 Percent' Out of the Debate On Purpose
  • Are Obama and Romney Good Leaders?
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