How Should Obama/Romney Respond to the Bad Jobs Report?

In light of Charles Decker’s great post on our blog about the Obama Presidency, I thought I would share a couple of great links I saw about the campaign, relating to the new jobs report, which, in case you hadn’t heard, was not great. Unemployment remains at 8.2% and, after adding 226,000 jobs per month in the first quarter, the economy added “only” 80,000 jobs in June.

To make matters worse for the Obama administration, history does not look favorably upon a President’s re-election prospects when the economy is poor. The woes of Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George H.W. Bush in 1992 are the most recent but not the only examples. However, the news may not be all that bad for Barack Obama.

At the great New York Times election blog, FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver has put together a new economic index as part of his model to predict the electoral fortunes of potential incumbent candidates. While the model is incomplete and worth keeping an eye on moving forward, his preliminary findings merit a mention in light of the jobs report:

In general, values of the index below 2.0 point to cases where the incumbent president will actually have become the underdog. The economy was quite terrible by the point in 2008 and getting worse, and it was a complete disaster in 1980. Meanwhile, in 1992 when Mr. Bush lost, the economy would have looked quite poor to voters based on real-time data. With the economic index now at 2.5 percent, Mr. Obama is just above this break-even point, but not by much.

Moreover, it’s not quite clear that Mitt Romney’s campaign will be able to focus this election on jobs and unemployment. Even if the campaign now has its primary message on track, it may not receive the support it needs from the Republican Party. At TPM, Brian Beutler does a nice job discussing the Romney campaign’s inability to overcome its party’s  tendency to bring non-economic issues to the forefront, often encouraged by the Obama campaign, of course:

It seems to me that every time something other than the economy dominates the headlines, the Romney camp, smartly, tries to steer the conversation back to the economy. It’s his best hope for the election. That was a particularly urgent imperative last week, when the Court ruling was the news, they’d just handed Obama a key victory, and uncomfortable comparisons to Romneycare were only a followup story away. Solution? Wave it off, pledge allegiance to the dissenters, talk about the economy again.

But instead GOP leaders in Washington wanted to turn the story around on Obama and Washington Democrats. They saw a shiny object chased after it, and ran roughshod over Romney along the way.

This seems to happen over and over again. The Obama campaign has been deft at keeping other major stories in the news — from student loans to women’s rights to tax equity to immigration and on and on. It’s all perfect bait for movement conservatives and House and Senate members, and each time they take it you can practically hear the cries of frustration from Boston. Inevitably Republicans find themselves talking about something other than the economy, and forcing the party to re-air all of the primary-season crazy they hope voters never see.

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