Neil Newhouse, Romney's pollster, attempted to soothe worried Republicans last week by stressing that the race remains extremely close. But the fact that Romney's pollster isn't worried is itself worrying. By rights, Romney should be 10 points ahead. They seem to think the bad economy will automatically win this race for the Republican.
It isn't as if voters are unaware that the economy stinks. Consider that the morning after the Democratic convention, the dismal jobs report did not prevent Democrats from getting a bigger bounce than Republicans received. Three and a half years of miserably high unemployment, slow growth, increasing poverty, falling labor force participation, record-setting food stamp dependence and an average 5 percent decline in household income has not persuaded most voters to support Mitt Romney.
On the contrary, the Gallup job approval rating for Obama topped 50 percent after the jobs report for the first time since 2010. Job approval tends to be a good predictor of an incumbent's share of the vote. By contrast, George H.W. Bush, the last incumbent to lose reelection, stood at 39 percent approval at this stage in 1992. And Bush's economy wasn't nearly as dismal.
The Romney campaign has failed to make the case that Obama is responsible for the economy, whereas Clinton/Obama have made a spurious, but perhaps effective, argument that Republicans got us "into this mess" and will pursue policies that will be no better and may be worse.
The Democrats argue that Republicans want only to help their rich friends, not the middle class.
Romney needs an aggressive and bold response. After shooting down the lie that Romney and Ryan plan to increase taxes, they might begin by explaining how the 2008 financial crisis came about -- namely that both parties, mostly the Democrats, insisted that banks give mortgages to people who couldn't afford them. As Peter Wallison of AEI has noted, 74 percent of the bad loans were on the books of Fannie, Freddie and other quasi-government entities. When the crash came, it nearly sank our entire banking system. Voters may believe that Republicans favor the rich. But they also believe that Democrats are the party of giveaways. It was the Democrats' insistence on forcing private banks to make uneconomic loans that led to collapse.
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