President Obama has described this election as a “make-or-break moment for the middle class.” The last three weeks of the election are now a make-or-break moment for Obama’s campaign. He built a commanding lead following the Democratic convention and the release of Romney’s 47 percent’s video by neutralizing Romney’s advantage on the economy. But, following the first presidential debate, some polls are showing that Americans once again trust Romney to do a better job of handling the economy—possibly because Obama failed to shred Romney’s tax cuts for the wealthy or “fuzzy” jobs plan, and curiously didn’t mention his unpopular tenure at Bain.
The unexpectedly strong jobs report for last month—where the unemployment rate fell below 8 percent and 86,000 jobs were added through revisions in July and August (on top of revisions adding 386,000 jobs from April 2011 to March 2012)—should’ve stopped the bleeding for Obama. The unemployment rate is now where it was when Obama took office, a major accomplishment considering the economic crisis he inherited and one that bolsters his argument that the country is on the right track. Jobless claims fell to 339,000 last week, the lowest since February 2008. Consumer confidence is at its highest in five years. The latest economic data strongly undercuts the central rationale for Romney’s candidacy—that “Obama isn’t working.” But instead of touting the president’s accomplishments and highlighting his plan to create 2 million new jobs through the American Jobs Act, the Obama campaign instead attacked Romney for wanting to axe Big Bird in the immediate aftermath of the debate.
The last four years have taught us that if Obama doesn’t forcefully make the case for his own policies, no one else will (he can only rely on Bill Clinton so many times). In the last three weeks of the race, the president needs to draw a simple contrast with Romney on the economy: Obama has a plan to create 2 million new jobs while Romney not only doesn’t have a credible jobs plan, but is actually advocating ideas that would make the economy worse. (See Paul Krugman’s “Five Points To Nowhere.” Romney claims his five-point plan would create 12 million new jobs, but the economy is already projected to add that many jobs over the next four years.) That distinction didn’t come across clearly in the first debate and Obama will have a missed a huge opportunity if voters don’t understand this crucial difference between the candidates in the next presidential debate.
“The president needs to say ‘the economy is starting to recover, but that’s not good enough,” says Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who conducted focus groups with undecided voters during the first debate in Denver. “‘We need to fight, fight, fight every day until the middle class is back.’”