White House Cheat Sheet: It's Still the Economy, Stupid
The twin speeches on national security today by President Obama and former vice president Dick Cheney may capture the headlines but there is little evidence that the issue is resonating strongly with voters still heavily focused on their economic well being.
It's easy to forget amid the flap over the expected release (and then non-release) by the Obama administration of photos depicting the abuse of terrorist detainees and the controversy stirred by Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (Calif.) allegations that the CIA misled her about interrogation tactics that average Americans are far less engaged in the debate over national security than the Washington chattering class.
Over a four-day period last week, which occurred during the heat of the Washington debate over terrorist detainees, 44 percent of Americans said they were following economic news very closely while just 25 percent said they were following the back and forth over the abuse photos closely, according to new data from the Pew Center for People & the Press.
In that same poll two-thirds of the sample said they that had heard "a lot" about General Motors and Chrysler closing dealerships while just 38 percent said the same about "Pelosi's knowledge of waterboarding."
A Gallup survey conducted earlier this month echoed the primacy of the economy in most Americans' minds. Asked to name the most important problem facing the country, 47 percent chose the economy while three percent opted for national security and two percent named terrorism.
And, it's not just in poll numbers that the economy-over-all message can be seen. In the special election in Upstate New York's 20th district in late March, the entire race was fought over whether or not Obama's economic stimulus package was a good thing for a region hard hit by the recession. Democrat Scott Murphy edged out state Assemblyman Joe Tedisco (R) in that contest despite a 70,000 Republican voter registration edge.
The story is the same in the two gubernatorial races on the ballot this year in Virginia and New Jersey.
Former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe, who currently leads the Virginia Democratic primary (more on that below), has talked of nothing else on the campaign trail but job creation and economic development.
And, in New Jersey, Republicans are optimistic about their chances because of the state's economic troubles. Gov. Jon Corzine's budget, which calls for tax increases and spending cuts, as well as his background as a former Goldman Sachs executive, make him a prime political target in the current economic environment.
"President Obama has staked his presidency on the economy," said Paul Begala, a longtime Democratic strategist. "And from health care to energy to education he talks about every domestic issue as a piece of the larger economic issue. It's all the economy, stupid."
Ed Rogers, a Republican lobbyist in Washington, agreed that "Obama doesn't have any political problems that a couple of years of four percent [gross domestic product] growth wouldn't solve" but added that the president's focus on turning around the economy remains a real issue.
"[Do] he and the Democrats in Congress have a plan to make it happen?," asked Rogers. "Does he even want it happen? This week you would have to say 'no' to all three questions."
Rogers echoes a Republican criticism of Obama that he is, in fact, tackling too many big issues at once -- trying to remake the automobile industry, close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, ramp up troop numbers in Afghanistan while drawing down in Iraq etc. -- rather than devoting all his time to turning the nation's economy around.
Obama has worked to paint all of the various challenges to the administration as inter-connected -- arguing that in solving just one he would be neglecting the broader problems facing the country.
"Obviously the economy is the most important issue, but a President's got to be able to walk, chew gum, and deal with the occasional pirate or flu epidemic at the same time," said John Del Cecato, a Democratic consultant and adviser to Obama's presidential campaign.
All true, but the biggest variable in the political math of election 2010 (and 2012, for that matter) is the economy. Its rise -- or fall -- will have a heavy hand in determining where the two parties stand next November.
What to Watch For:
Thursday's Fix Picks: Thursday is the new Friday. It's not quite the weekend, it's not quite the week but it's still quite nice.
1. President Obama speechifies on national security.
2. A terrific look inside the mind of Jon Huntsman.
3. Carl Leubsdorf profiles the man Senate Republicans are depending on to bring them back in 2010.
4. Mike McIntyre: North Carolina Senate candidate?
5. Kris Allen!
Biden For Specter: Vice President Biden, who played a central role in the recruitment of Sen. Arlen Specter into the Democratic Party, has penned an email to more than 500,000 people in Pennsylvania -- harvested from the lists of the Democratic National Committee and Organizing for America -- urging support for the newest Senate Democrat. "Three weeks ago, my friend Senator Arlen Specter added one more feat to his long and impressive career -- he became a Democrat," writes Biden. "Over the years, we've certainly had our disagreements. During that time, however, Arlen has been my friend, my confidant, and my partner in enacting many pieces of significant legislation." The email calls on recipients to learn more about Specter (and donate to the DNC). "I know that once you come to know him like I do, you'll be just as happy as I am to have him," Biden writes. Specter's first three weeks as a Democrat have been a struggle as his newfound party has been somewhat less than welcoming, with Rep. Joe Sestak still considering a primary challenge. The strong support of the White House -- demonstrated by Biden's email -- significantly strengthens Specter's hand particularly in a Democratic primary, however.
Macker the Frontrunner: Former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe holds a double-digit lead over his two Democratic rivals with less than three weeks remaining in the Virginia governor's primary, according to a new independent poll. McAuliffe leads with 37 percent while state Sen. Creigh Deeds took 26 and former state Del. Brian Moran 22 percent Survey USA poll conducted for two local television stations. McAuliffe, utilizing a heavy financial edge over his rivals, has been on television for months and that barrage of commercials has clearly paid off. State Attorney General Bob McDonnell, who is unopposed for the Republican nomination, leads all three Democrats in hypothetical general election match-ups; McDonnell is ahead of Deeds and McAuliffe by six points and Moran by ten.
T-Paw Pushes Back: Minnesota Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty quickly responded to a letter from Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine (Va.) that called on him to end the state's contested Senate election with a missive of his own condemning such a move as "premature." Pawlenty insisted that despite reports to the contrary he is not withholding an election certificate from Democrat Al Franken, and that Minnesota law states clearly he cannot issue such a certificate until the "a court of proper jurisdiction has finally determined the contest." Pawlenty's response letter is a recognition of the political peril he could face if he is successfully cast by national Democrats as holding up Franken's rightful seating to the Senate. Pawlenty continues to mull whether to run for a third term in 2010 or retire and likely focus his time on running for president in 2012.
Wolff Soiree to Feature Pelosi: As Brian Wolff leaves his perch as the executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, he will be feted by a who's who of House Democratic leaders including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (S.C.) among other members. The event will be held on June 4 at the Newseum. Wolff, a Pelosi confidant, served as finance director for the DCCC during the 2006 cycle and as executive director in 2008. He is headed to the Edison Electric Institute.
Say What?: "He's making trillions of dollars -- he has to be the happiest guy." -- Former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson (R) on talk show host Rush Limbaugh during an interview on the Fox Business Network.
May 21, 2009; 5:05 AM ET
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