The presidential election is about 100 days away. President Obama and Mitt Romney are roughly even in the various polls, with Obama holding slight leads in the key swing states.
A lot can happen in 100 days or thereabouts. Napoleon, for example, went from ignominious exile at Elba to triumph in Paris to utter defeat at Waterloo. South Korea was lost and then saved by Gen. Matthew Ridgway in about 100 days of winter in 1950 and early 1951. In 1948, supposedly doomed incumbent President Harry Truman went from 17 points down in the polls to a victory margin of 4.5 percentage points on Election Day.
What could change the pulse of the election in the next three months? Strangely enough, it may not be the economy. It is now boringly predictable: flat and not likely either to rebound or plunge much further before the November election. The new normal is 42 consecutive months of 8 percent-plus unemployment. The dismal economy is expected to slog along at less than a 2 percent rate of annual GDP growth each quarter.
The public shrugs at four straight $1 trillion-plus annual deficits. Balanced budgets belong to the last century. Housing is still depressed after four years. Home equity and interest on passbook accounts are fossilized concepts. Not even the administration is arguing that the $831 billion in stimulus borrowing, Obamacare, a $5 trillion increase in the national debt, or three years of near-zero interest rates have primed the economic pump.
Yet Obama has not yet suffered all that much politically for the hard times, at least not in the manner once accorded incumbents Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter or George H.W. Bush. Instead, Obama argues mostly that the nightmare could have been worse. Or that four years ago George W. Bush left him a mess. Or that a Republican majority in the House of Representatives beginning in 2011 derailed his successful agenda after two years of Democratic majorities. Or that Romney is the sort of rich financial pirate who got us into the mess of 2008.
Romney counters that Obama's neo-socialist policies turned a natural recovery into a near-permanent recession. Expanded government, more regulations, constant talk of higher taxes, astronomical debt, a federal takeover of health care, insider subsidies to failing companies, and nonstop demonization of successful businesspeople stalled the economy and scared the daylights out of job-creating entrepreneurs.