Last Friday’s job numbers indicated the creation of 115 000 new jobs, the second straight month of sluggish job growth. With strong headwinds from Europe and unpredictable political events in the Middle East, it is clear that the issue of the economy will not be a lesser factor in deciding who wins in November. In light of these factors, Barack Obama launched his “official” reelection bid in the swing states of Virginia and Ohio.
True, the unemployment rate figure dropped to 8.1%, but Americans opted out of the job search process in greater numbers. So the economy is still hurting. Despite 26 months of consecutive private sector job increases, and the creation of over 4.2 million jobs since Obama took over, fewer than 25% of the jobs lost from the Great Recession have been recovered. Compare this to Canada which has recovered over 100% of the jobs lost.
We know that the Great Recession of 2007-09 did not hit us as hard as it did our U.S. neighbors, but it is becoming evident in this election year that the Obama economic policies will be judged as having a modest impact, and Obama will have to defend his record on its own merits whether he likes it or not.
The President did introduce a stimulus plan, he did reform healthcare and financial institution, and he has put in place programs to stimulate new job creation and new industries. At the end of the day, he has to expect that he will be judged on his performance in office.
Mitt Romney, with his legendary business acumen, is relishing the fact that the job numbers have stalled somewhat in recent months to illustrate that Obama policies have failed. Four million jobs were lost in the last 3 years of the Bush administration, but Romney is criticizing Obama policies as if the Bush legacy was just an asterisk. Weak job numbers also allow him to fudge the fact (raised by his GOP opponents) that Massachusetts under Governor Romney ranked 47th in job creation. So if this election is to be a referendum on Obama and job growth, Romney stands a better chance of winning the presidency by going on the offensive—or so he thinks.
Despite the sluggish recovery, latest polls in swing states and reflecting on the electoral vote count place Obama in the lead to re-win the presidency, which means that the U.S. voter may be more discriminating when it comes to electing a President. This explains why Obama has been so active in pushing his foreign policy achievements, campaigning on student tuition interest rates issue, and reminding people about how he has fought the war on terrorism. Commemorating the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden last week was a convenient reminder that a President does not focus on only one issue.
Romney, since “clinching” the GOP, has remained relatively absent in proposing an alternative to Obama policies. And this will soon become a handicap. He can send his surrogates, obtain endorsements (some of them, very tepid), and criticize Obama, but at the end of the day, the voter will choose between the two men, the two tickets and the two visions. He too, will be judged on his performance as a candidate. How different will his policies be from those of George W. Bush?
Since the autumn 2011, Obama has generally set the agenda while the Republicans were in-fighting in the primaries. He won a concession on the extension of the payroll tax cut, has introduced a jobs bill, and has got the nation to focus on his fairness doctrine by promoting the so-called Buffett Rule where tax rates would rise on millionaires and billionaires. All of which shows the advantage of both incumbency and the bully pulpit.
So despite the weak job numbers, Obama launched his campaign this past weekend and he will be aggressively pursuing his quest for reelection. Romney will have to do more than just criticize or blame the President, hoping Americans forget the mess Obama inherited, if he is to win. He will have to present an alternative.