In September, it appeared that Obama was cruising toward a close but comfortable victory over his GOP challenger, Mitt Romney. But Obama’s miserable performance in the first debate changed the game, and Romney leapfrogged ahead of the incumbent. Obama came roaring back in their second and third meetings but even those strong performances did not appear to be enough to undo the damage of the first debate. As of last week, polls showed the race to be an almost perfect tie.
So, in the end it may be the “perfect storm,” literally and figuratively, that cements a second term for the President. A competent and gracious response to a natural disaster and the release of better-than-expected jobs numbers have created a powerful closing argument for Obama.
When Hurricane Sandy decimated the Jersey Shore and New York City one week before the election, Obama was given a remarkable and unique opportunity to communicate with voters. The administration’s handling of the disaster by all accounts has been impressive.
However, the most visible and outspoken cheerleader of the Obama administration this week has been Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey and a supporter of Mitt Romney. Christie has been effusive in his praise of Obama all over the airwaves (most amusingly on Fox, where he basically dismissed the presidential campaign as unimportant). The effective deployment of FEMA and the unlikely bromance of Christie and Obama have undercut the GOP arguments against Obama in four important ways.
- Romney’s claim that Obama cannot work with people outside of his own party has been soundly refuted by the image of Christie bear-hugging the president.
- The Republican’s budget, written by VP candidate Paul Ryan and touted by Mitt Romney, explicitly calls for a reduction of funds available for natural disasters. It has been impossible for Romney to justify this position in the aftermath of a historic storm — the very suggestion of it made him appear callous and uninformed.
- Sandy reintroduced climate change as an urgent problem that requires government action and leadership. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was apparently so moved by the reality of the storm, which scientists have long claimed will become the “new normal,” that he endorsed Obama for president yesterday. Bloomberg is considered a bastion of independent thought and a defender of the business community. His endorsement was a major and unexpected boon for Obama.
- Perhaps most important, President Obama has received a lot of free and positive press. For months, the television airwaves have been saturated with negative advertisements from both candidates. This week, voters have seen the commander-in-chief at his best … just as we approach Election Day.
Of course, this election is still mainly about the economy. On that front, the Obama administration was handed good news from payroll processing firm ADP and from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yesterday, ADP announced that a much-higher-than-expected number of private-sector jobs had been created in October. Just this morning, the BLS confirmed that the economy added 171,000 jobs last month. Better yet, it revised the previous months’ estimates upward.
The strong jobs numbers weaken Romney’s central argument that electing him will provide a dramatic positive change in health of the labor market. For months, Romney has been on the stump, accusing Obama of letting America down — a common refrain has been, “Mr. President, where are the jobs?” — and his campaign focused on the unemployment rate, which had been hovering over 8%. Recent jobs data deflate that charge: The rate ticked down to 7.8% in September and is basically unchanged at 7.9%.
Of course, the Obama campaign has been quick to tout the numbers as a sign that their policies are working. But they also recognize that the economy needs to see a much faster rate of growth and job creation for the unemployment rate to drop considerably. Obama’s most central argument, then, is that he will be able to build on the existing momentum in a second term. The jobs numbers provide good evidence for that strength of that argument.
Romney is hoping that voters in the swing states will remain dissatisfied enough with the Obama presidency and its record on job creation to fire him on Tuesday. But that case became somewhat more difficult to make in this final weekend of campaigning.
Romney now faces multiple headwinds. His primary argument about the economy is less persuading, and Obama is getting public accolades from both Republicans and Independents. These dynamics will likely encourage undecided voters to stick with the president for another four years.
Only one month ago Romney seemed like the obvious alternative to a disengaged and tired incumbent. What a difference a month makes. Today Obama appears enthused, compassionate, competent and buoyed by the economic reality starting to take hold.