Good morning, and welcome to another edition of Prix Fixe Politics! Apologies for my absence, but May was a long month of work outside the political realm. I can’t say that disappointed me, but you can only stay away for so long (I’m on my way to catch a flight to Wisconsin for tomorrow’s gubernatorial maelstrom). On the eve of the second most important election of 2012, here’s today’s menu…
Appetizer: We are less than 100 days away from the Republican and Democratic conventions in Tampa and Charlotte, respectively. They are the Super Bowl, March Mardness, and World Series of politics, but they only happen every four years. So, maybe they’re more like the Olympics or the World Cup, but with fewer viewers and many more out-of-shape people. A source tells me that the Democrats are six weeks behind the Republicans in their operations and development. With the first week of September only three months away, that can’t be sitting well with Obama’s Chicago outfit.
Main Course: Tomorrow in Wisconsin, voters will go to the polls to participate in only the third recall election of any U.S. governor (if you’re from California, you may remember fondly when you could have voted for Gary Coleman to replace Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 – a bright spot in my home state’s storied history). Last year, WI Gov. Scott Walker sparked a firestorm when he eliminated most collective bargaining rights for public-sector unions. Since then, pro-labor forces mobbed the state capital in Madison, Democratic state legislators fled to Illinois to avoid a budget vote, and the candidates and independent groups spent over $63 million drumming up support. What happens if Tom Barrett, the Democratic nominee and Milwaukee Mayor, defeats Walker? Foremost, the labor unions’ financial efforts will be vindicated. The unions will gain significant fundraising momentum in important rust belt states such as Ohio and Michigan, making it even harder for Romney to move these must-win states into his column. And if Gov. Walker holds on? You can look for him in a prime speaking spot at the Republican National Convention in August. But more importantly, I expect other Republican Governors and state legislatures to toy with similar proposals. They may not have the courage to act before November, but they’ll float the idea, bring Walker to speak in their state (think Pennsylvania and Ohio), and use it as leverage over the labor/Democratic thorns in their sides. Who’s going to win? At this point, anybody in Wisconsin who plans to vote has made up his or her mind. It’s cliche, but it’s true: it will come down to voter turnout. And the unions are pretty good about loading Democratic voters into vans heading for the polls. Still, I think Walker keeps his job by 4-6 points.
Dessert: Unemployment rose from 8.1% to 8.2% in May – the first increase since June. With only 69,000 jobs added, swing voters have another reason to think more seriously about voting for Romney. While both campaigns will be on the edge of their seats waiting for June’s numbers, I expect gas prices will be the linchpin of the election. Nobody is immune from rising gas prices. The price we pay at the pump transcends race, region, political affiliation, and religion. The gas station down the corner doesn’t care if you are pro-choice or pro-life, support same-sex marriage or oppose it, or think taxes should be increased or spending should be cut. A CNN poll from late March showed that one in five Americans found the cost of gas to be the most important issue facing America. 70% said that higher gas prices created a financial hardship for them. So, while the unemployment rate rises (and the real unemployment rate – those no longer counted in the largely useless statistic – sits closer to 12-14%), its impact is relatively limited. If gas prices fall after the summer, as they typically do, I expect that alone to give Obama at least a .5% bump. And that could make all the difference in a swing state like Florida or Colorado.
After Dinner Drink: This is one of the best new ads by Americans for Prosperity: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUQdP6y0ArM
It hits all of the pressure points using facts, rather than assertions: taxpayer dollars going overseas, creating jobs outside of the country, Washington taking more and wasting more…We’ve shown this ad to swing focus groups across the country – from Colorado to Michigan to Ohio to Virginia to Florida – and we’ve learned that it’s still the wasteful Washington spending that really ticks off those all-important Independents. Except now the wasteful spending is actually going to help the Chinese! Ads like these are, and will be, the most effective of this cycle for Romney. The more time he spends off Americans’ television sets, the better. That’s how the election will become a referendum against Obama…and winnable for the the former Bay State governor.