Unemployment hangs stubbornly above 8 percent. Yet, defying election history,President Obamawould handily win a second term if voters went to the polls today.
Governor Romneyhas not capitalized on the stagnant economy, because after sewing up the GOP nomination, he failed to move quickly on issues critical to key demographic groups, and act on the challenger’s imperative to offer a better alternative to the President’s policies.
To win conservative primary voters, Governor Romney rejected the Dream Act, which enjoyed bi-partisan sponsorship in Congress and would permit young adults brought to America illegally as children to earn citizenship by completing two years of college or military service.
After securing the nomination, Mr. Romney failed to define a compromise position more acceptable to Hispanic voters, and permitted President Obama to preempt the issue by suspending deportation of those young adults. President Obama enjoys an overwhelming lead among Hispanic voters.
Governor Romney vows to repeal Obamacare but is vague about what would replace it. The President’s health care reforms may be too expensive and encourage private firms to offshore jobs to escape costly coverage for employees; however, the law contains provisions popular among the elderly and with women—for example, much improved Medicare prescription drug coverage and coverage for children with chronic conditions.
No surprise! President Obama leads Governor Romney in Florida—a must win state for any Republican candidate, along with Texas, given the Democrat’s lock on California and New York. And the President enjoys a significant lead among women in battleground states.
On the economy, Governor Romney sounds like a broken record, repeating an annoying theme and undermining his appeal. Constantly harping President Obama’s economic policies have failed, he asserts his business experience qualifies him to create millions of new American jobs.
Voters recognize President Obama inherited a bigger mess than any president since FDR, managed to stabilize the economy and created more than 3.6 million jobs since the recovery began in October 2009.
At Bain Capital, Governor Romney earned his fortune reorganizing troubled companies—often shutting facilities, outsourcing jobs and firing employees.
Little in that history indicates he knows much about shaping public policies to encourage new industries, attract private investment, instigate innovation, and generally help U.S. companies compete in global markets and bring jobs to America.
During the early days of his campaign, he talked a lot about the right things—dealing with unfair competition from China and developing domestic oil—but since, he has loaded up on Bush Administration economic advisors, and emphasized broader themes like deregulation and tax and spending cuts.
He has not explained how his proposals on trade, energy, health care, banking, taxation, and regulation would create jobs—now, not down the road by unshackling Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.”
President Obama, in the spirit of Harry Truman, is out on the hustings in Pennsylvania and the Middle West extolling his rescue of GM and Chrysler, his vision for clean energy jobs, and an America that puts the middle class first.
The President’s claims may be thin on facts, especially given the massive debt he is piling up to pay for it all; however, in that part of the country, considerable progress has been accomplished.
The President leads Governor Romney in the polls in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
To win, Governor Romney must go to those places—spend lots of time, not just advertising dollars—and explain exactly how he intends to bring back jobs from Asia and create new ones, get banks lending to businesses again, and lower healthcare costs without throwing too many Americans into the breach of an unaffordable free market.
The governor hasn’t done that, and instead, President has been able to define the campaign in terms of the Obama way or the old way—a.k.a. George W. Bush redux in the person of Mitt Romney.
That’s everyone’s poltergeist.
Peter Morici is a professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, and former Chief Economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission.