Rick Santorum’s exit from the GOP race could not come at a better time. With several important primary battles looming, frontrunner Mitt Romney was struggling to close the door on his rivals, and especially on Santorum. That meant heavy spending, especially in delegate-rich Pennsylvania, where the former senator was a serious competitor. With Santorum gone and Newt Gingrich disappearing faster than a Snow cone on a July afternoon, Romney looks set to emerge an easy victor.
Consequently, donors who had maxed out on Romney’s primary race will soon be free to give again to the former governor’s campaign. Despite incessant hang-wringing from The New York Times on the power of billionaire-funded Super Pacs, the truth is that President Obama has assembled a formidable war chest (partly from Super Pacs), and Romney has to push to catch up.
The website OpenSecrets’ most recent tally puts Obama’s cash on hand at nearly $85 million, while Romney’s bank account stood at $7 million. Already the candidate’s fund-raising team has sent out appeals. Rebuilding his coffers is essential; only then will Romney be set to launch a more focused and sustained effort to beat President Obama.
Certainly, the battle will not be easy. Unseating an incumbent is always difficult, but there are reasons why Republicans should be optimistic. Though most polling has President Obama well in the lead today, his popularity seems to falter when the economic news sours, as is now the case. After a few months of progress, the recovery seems to be stalling again.
Small business and consumer optimism is fading, the stock market has hit a speed bump and job growth has wilted. It is the perfect moment for Romney to reassert his advantage. Polling consistently has shown that, in managing the economy, voters favor the former Massachusetts Governor over President Obama. That advantage doesn’t count for much when the economy is humming. When it falters, Romney can assume the driver’s seat.
At the same time, President Obama has chosen to focus his guns recently on raising taxes on the wealthy. Though most Americans think the rich should pay more in taxes, they don’t view this as the most important issue of the day, nor much of a platform for rebooting job growth. Also, many are aware that Obama’s argument that our tax system is regressive – causing high earners to pay less that middle income folks -- is bogus.
Those in the top one percent paid 37 percent of federal income taxes in 2009; also, middle class earners pay on average 15 percent of their total income to the federal government while the super-rich (the top one tenth of one percent) pay 26 percent. It is also clear that imposing the so-called Buffett rule would do little to fill our nation’s budget hole, since it is projected to raise no more than $5 billion a year. That is no match for a trillion-dollar deficit.
This is a weak campaign theme. Ordinary Americans are not looking over the hedge and wondering what their neighbors are paying in taxes. They are concerned about whether they will hold their jobs, if the prices of gasoline and food will make it tougher to stay afloat, whether their home will continue to lose value. They are also worried about our nation’s finances, and well aware that President Obama has completely whiffed on righting our badly listing fiscal ship. These are the issues that Romney can talk about.
The Obama administration has eschewed working with the business community to get our economy moving again. Instead, they have relied on stimulus spending and easy money policy. The former led us down the road of ballooning budget deficits, while the latter has been blamed (by Brazil’s Rousseff, among others) for the rising cost of commodities. Should inflation tick up in coming months this charge could become incendiary.
While the White House has championed numerous efforts to reduce mortgage payments, none has been well orchestrated or effective. On the jobs front, President Obama has offered up speeches touting a fanciful new era of “green” investment, which has to date yielded little but skepticism.
Romney has a shot. With Mr. Santorum out of the running, he now has to fine tune his message and attack the weak underbelly of Obamanomics. He needs to convince Americans that he has a plan, and that the plan might work. He also could position himself as the person who might bring our sadly divided country together; but wait, didn’t we just elect someone to do just that?