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This Thing Is Not Over: How Obama Could Still Be Sunk

Not since the Great Depression has an incumbent president sought reelection saddled with such as many dire-sounding economic statistics as Obama, and Romney ably ticked them off – 23 million people looking for work, one in six in poverty, 47 million of food stamps.

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It’s not hard to grasp why this would strike the casual viewer as underwhelming.  Few people actually know or believe that Obama cut their taxes, and while some of its components are popular, the overall concept of ObamaCare is still struggling to gain acceptance. So he’s probably not going to get much credit from swing voters on these fronts. The five million jobs claim might not have much bite either. Polling on the question of whether voters think they’re better off than four years ago is mixed; taken together, it suggests there’s room for Obama to argue that the economy has improved on his watch and is on the right track – but also that there’s room for Romney to argue that the recovery could and should be much stronger.

What’s been missing from Obama’s campaign, as many have noted, has been a clear second term economic blueprint – or, really, any attempt to tell disappointed voters why things would be different if he gets four more years. Again, this isn’t exactly fair; the economy isn’t in as bad shape as most assume, and there have been some  encouraging signs lately. There’s something to be said for “stay the course,” but that may not be enough for voters if they don’t feel like the economy is coming around.

It did make me wonder if Obama should be talking more about one of his first term failures: the American Jobs Act, which he proposed a year ago and which congressional Republicans killed with inaction. Granted, Obama never really expected the plan – which economists  widely agreed would boost growth and cut unemployment – to pass; it was designed to highlight the GOP’s refusal to work with him on job creation. But bringing it up might have been useful on Tuesday. It would have given Obama a chance to remind voters of the blanket Republican opposition he’s faced and to tie Romney to the poisonously unpopular House GOP. And it could have framed in a forward-looking way, a call to action from the president to the public:  The Republicans refused to even consider helping me with this, so now it’s up to you and me to use this election to make them help with this!

Presumably, the Obama campaign has judged a message like this too polarizing or too likely to stir accusations of whining and excuse-making. So he’s left with what he offered his disgruntled ’08 supporter on Tuesday. It might still be enough to win, but he could also be playing with fire.


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