Recent national polls continue to give President Barack Obama a small but consistent lead. The national polls are important in that they help gauge the overall state of the race. The presidential race, however, would not be decided by the popular vote. The candidate who wins 270 electoral votes will become president. Those electoral votes are won by winning states. As the presidential campaign enters the homestretch, there are nine swing states which will be the deciding factor in this election.
The polls have been close throughout the year. Although the economic situation has been improving, there are still millions of Americans who are unemployed. Republican Mitt Romney’s campaign has been betting that the state of the economy would determine the outcome of the election. Since unemployment is still high, Romney is convinced that the public will blame the incumbent president. He, then set out to run primarily on an economic platform. Romney is not the first challenger that uses this tried-and-true strategy. Both the 1980 and 1992 elections were similar case studies.
After winning the Gulf War decisively against Saddam Hussein, the approval rating of George Herbert Walker Bush reached 89%. But he presided over a “jobless recovery” in terms of the economy. The unemployment rate was 7.5%. Tehn-Democratic challenger Bill Clinton’s campaign focused exclusively on the economy. Despite reaching an approval rating that was almost 90% about a year before the presidential contest, Bush still lost the election.
Knowing that the pace of the economic recovery is still sluggish, Romney has been trying to use both Clinton‘s political playbookas a roadmap in his quest for the presidency. There are, however, many glaring differences. President Obama inherited an economy that was on the verge of a second Depression. Obama has not only stabilized the economy but managed to put it on a path to recovery. Therefore, despite the public’s frustration about the slow pace of the economic recovery, they understand that Obama inherited an economy in free fall and succeeded in reviving it. Even more important for the president, polls have shown that the public continues to hold former President George W. Bush responsible for the economic crisis; thus, most Americans implicitly blame him for their economic woes.
Unlike Clinton, whose plan sought to make colleges more affordable, invest in infrastructure, promote partnership between the government and the private sector in order to “convert ideas into manufacturing jobs,” Romney’s core proposals are a rehash of the very policies that caused the economy to flounder. Even worse, he has not demonstrated how those cuts would create jobs and how they would be paid for so that they do not add to the growing deficit. Therefore, while Clinton stressed how his plan would produce more jobs for the middle class and provide more opportunities to struggling Americans, Romney has yet to spell out how he plans on tackling the continued job crisis.
Moreover, Romney has been trying for months to turn Obama into the second-coming of Jimmy Carter. As indicated by an article in Politico, there is no parallel between Obama’s presidency and Carter’s other than the fact that they are both Democrats. For instance, before the 1980 election, Carter’s approval rating was 37% whereas Obama’s stands at 50%. The piece also points out that Carter’s political base abandoned him while the president is enjoying strong support among Democratic voters. More importantly, the economy was much weaker under Carter.
In addition, Romney seeks to equate Obama’s foreign policy to that of Carter. Because of his inability to deal successfully with the Iran hostage crisis, Carter has continued to be perceived as a president that was ineffectual with regards to foreign policy. But this comparison has failed to resonate among most voters because of the many successes (including the killing of Osama bin Laden and the decimation of Al-Qaeda) that Obama has had on national security. Despite these constant attacks on his handling of foreign policy, the public continues to support the president.
Most importantly, Obama’s bold move to rescue the auto industry has been a boon to the economy of many swing states. Initially, the rescue was highly unpopular. Hence, when Romney made a strong case against the bailout in a New York Times article, it was not a controversial position. It turned out that this courageous decision by the president has breathed new life into the auto industry. The revitalizing industry has given a jolt to the state economies of Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. Those swing states will be critical in the upcoming election. The unemployment rate in Ohio is 7.2%, which is about one percentage point lower than the national unemployment rate. It is not surprising, then, that the latest poll shows that Obama is leading Romney in Ohio.
Ohio is a must win for Romney. No Republican candidate has won the presidency without carrying the state of Ohio. Romney’s path to 270, which is the number of electoral votes that are needed to win, will be exceedingly difficult if he were to lose Ohio. If Obama continues to maintain his lead in most of the swing states, particularly in Ohio in the coming weeks, Romney would have a hard time denying the president a second term.