Donald Lambro

This isn't a time to get sidetracked by secondary issues that distract us from the central issue of our time: making our economy healthy again, with growth rates of 4 percent or more, not the sickly 1 percent to 2 percent rates under Obama's "new normal" economic policies.

In recent weeks, the network news shows have been peddling the Obama administration's line that the economy is back, growing again and doing a lot better. Readers of this column know that I've disagreed with that on a number of fundamental levels.

The real, national long-term jobless rate is much higher than the government tells us, i.e., 9 percent or more, with a 19 percent underemployment rate that includes people forced to work fewer hours or at temp jobs. A puny 1.7 percent economic growth rate last year is nothing to brag about, either.

Let's add another devastating factor to the complaints about the Obama economy that the network news shows aren't reporting: Nearly half of Americans say the economy "is in either a recession or a depression," according to a new Gallup poll out this week.

When Gallup asked Americans across the country, "Do you think the U.S. economy is growing, slowing down, in a recession or in an economic depression?" they got this response:

Forty percent said it was growing, which of course it is, though at historically subpar growth rates that will not produce the 300,000 or more jobs per month needed to bring national unemployment levels down to 6 percent or less for several years.

But 27 percent also replied that we're still in a recession, 19 percent said a depression, and 13 percent said the economy was now "slowing down." Only 2 percent had no opinion.

So a whopping 59 percent believe this economy isn't doing so hot. I'll leave it for you to decide why this didn't make the nightly news or the front pages of America's newspapers.

It should come as no surprise that 50 percent or more of those who responded positively about the economy had "a political motivation to do so," as Gallup put it: "Democrats, nonwhites, and self-described liberals."

As for Republicans, only 26 percent said the economy was growing, but so what? The issue is the strength of that growth rate.

But the poll numbers contain yet another warning sign for the White House and the Obama campaign that hasn't escaped the attention of Romney's campaign strategists.

The responses from political independents to the state of the economy was closer to how Republicans see it than to the Democrats' perspective. More than a third of the independents said the economy was growing, while half say it is in recession or depression.

That little bombshell should trigger tremors in the Obama camp and raise doubts in the pundit class who think Obama cannot be beaten.

Forget "the economy is coming back" hype the news media have been shamelessly promoting. In the fourth year of Obama's presidency, there are still 15 states where the jobless rate is between 9 and 13 percent, including key swing states like Nevada, Florida and Arizona.

That's why Romney is staying focused on the economy. It is the issue that is going to decide Barack Obama's fate.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.