Mitt Romney campaigns last week in Wolfeboro, N.H. Photo by Kayana Szymczak/Getty Images.
Less than four months until Election Day, President Obama and Mitt Romney have almost no room for error, as the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll has the Democratic incumbent and his Republican challenger tied at 47 percent among registered voters.
The state of the race is basically unchanged from late May, when the president led, 49 percent to 46 percent, a margin within the survey’s sampling error. Since then, a pair of dispiriting jobs reports have sparked fresh concern over the pace of the economic recovery and the Supreme Court handed down major decisions on two hot-button political matters: immigration and health care.
But those developments have done nothing to break the deadlock between the president and the likely GOP nominee.
The Washington Post’s Dan Balz and Jon Cohen frame the survey this way:
The new numbers reflect a stubborn constancy: Only twice in 13 surveys over more than a year has either candidate held a lead exceeding the poll’s margin of sampling error. Now, the campaign appears destined to remain extremely close in the final four months before Election Day.
The country’s ongoing economic struggles remain a top threat to Mr. Obama’s chances of winning a second term. A majority of Americans — 54 percent — disapprove of the president’s handling of the economy, compared to 44 percent who said they approve. Forty-one percent said they “strongly” disapprove, while only 21 percent “strongly” approve.
When asked which candidate they trust to do a better job on the economy, 48 percent of registered voters picked Romney, while 45 percent selected the president.
Where the president still had a clear advantage over Romney was on personal characteristics. By a 63 percent to 27 percent spread, Americans said Mr. Obama was the more friendly and likable person. The president also held a 50-40 advantage on the question of who better understands the economic problems people in the country are having.
The poll also revealed that the relentless attacks by Democrats on Romney’s private sector experience at the investment firm Bain Capital have had some impact.
When asked about the Romney’s work as a corporate investor, 36 percent of Americans said he did more to create jobs in the United States, while 40 percent said he did more to cut positions.
Balz and Cohen also note that “twice as many swing-state voters consider Romney’s work in buying and restructuring companies a reason to oppose, rather than to support, his candidacy.”
They add, “Just over half of all voters say that work is not a big factor for them.”
Nearly 75 percent of respondents said they would “definitely” support Mr. Obama or Romney in November, while another 12 percent indicating they would “probably” back their current choice. That leaves a sliver of undecided voters left for the two campaigns fight over, with the winner of that battle likely to have the upper hand on Nov. 6.
A NEW-SEEMING TAX FIGHT
Sometimes a policy push is all politics, especially less than four months from an election.
On Monday, President Obama pivoted to a renewed call for extending tax cuts for those earning $250,000 or less, and as he tends to do, outlined all the arguments Republicans would use against the idea.
Mr. Obama may have a crystal ball, because that’s exactly how the GOP responded.
In an interview with Radio Iowa on Monday, Romney said he wants to see a “restructuring of our entire tax code” and said the president’s plan “is aimed at small business and job creators” and would “hurt the middle class.”
Romney said the right answer is to extend the tax cuts as they exist now “indefinitely” until a new plan can be put in place.
We haven’t yet seen how Romney will engage on the issue in front of voters, but a Republican close to the campaign suggested the party will tell voters they think the president is “out of ideas” and is reduced to repeating “empty promises.” The Republican National Committee, in particular, has had some success in splicing the president’s past words to remind Americans of the things he’s been saying for a while.
The president will take his issue to the hustings Tuesday, speaking at what the campaign dubs a middle-class family event in battleground Iowa.
No doubt the issue is helping the White House turn away from a bad jobs report, and the campaign is well aware of how it polls. “The American people are with me on this,” Mr. Obama said Monday.
Look to hear Mr. Obama point out what he said at the White House: “Since I’ve been in office we’ve cut taxes for typical middle class family by $3,600. Sometimes there’s a little misinformation…and folks get confused about it.”
If anyone is wondering if such an extension could pass in an election year, don’t hold your breath. The entire debate is an echo of the tax war that played out in September 2010, when Democrats said they would force a vote on extending the middle-class Bush tax cuts and ending those for the top earners. But the fight the party thought would help to define that fall campaign became an internal firestorm, with dozens of Democrats pleading with then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., not to hold a vote before they faced voters. Many of those Democrats ultimately lost their races anyway, but a vote never happened, even though party operatives and the White House maintained it would have been a political winner.
Once the GOP won control of the House, the president was forced to compromise with his rival party and sign an extension of the cuts that punted the issue to December this year.
If it all seems a little familiar, it should. Already some Democrats are calling for the threshold to be higher, with tax cuts extended for everyone but people earning more than $1 million.
The Obama campaign points out that Romney has said the tax fight should wait until after the presidential contest is decided. Aides in Chicago told the Morning Line they keep pollster Frank Luntz’s advice in mind: Whoever makes the election about restoring security to the middle class will win.
On Monday’s NewsHour, Gwen Ifill talked with Christina and Stuart Rothenberg about what was hidden in the president’s rhetoric. Mr. Obama’s speech was an attempt to control the dialogue of the race, since Romney is zeroed in on jobs and the economy.
“The White House is trying to change the subject,” Rothenberg said. “This is a battle over what the election is about.”
Christina pointed out how this week’s refrain is a throwback to Mr. Obama’s middle-class centric message from four years ago.
Watch the segment here or below.
Christina also sat down with Gwen and Judy Woodruff on Monday afternoon to chat about the campaigns’ recent strategies and the big bucks they are raising.
Watch the Political Checklist here or below.
EXPLORING THE OBAMA BIOGRAPHY
Judy sat down with David Maraniss to discuss his new book that dives into the president’s family and the early experiences that shaped his life.
“[T]hat’s what fascinated me in the beginning, sort of the unlikeliness of this character coming from so many different places and weaving it together into someone who became president,” Maraniss said.
Judy noted that the author found a recurring theme of the young Obama avoiding life’s traps, even as a child.
Well, that’s part of being a biracial kid, I think, is trying to figure out how to negotiate different worlds and not get trapped in some way.
But you look at his life, and you see the trap of being born on an island, further from any land mass than any place in the world, except Easter Island. You see the trap of being biracial and trying to figure out the different racial subtleties and not-so-subtle parts of being that in America today, of being defined by society as black, and trying to figure that out and find his own way to an African-American life, the trap of possibly getting struck in Chicago politics, with all of its elements that can be dangerous.
All along the way, you see him trying to avoid the traps. And that I think helps explain his presidency, too. That’s so much a part of his character and personality that there are times in his presidency where even his supporters think, what is he doing? Why is he moving so slowly on something?
And usually, it’s because he’s calculating ahead, trying to figure out where the trap is.
Watch the interview here or below.
Reporter-producer Cassie M. Chew explored how Maraniss went about his reporting. Watch that part of the story here and don’t miss the slide show of the president’s family tree put together by online politics production assistant Meena Ganesan.
2012 LINE ITEMS
- Team Obama has another web video on Romney’s tax returns and his offshore accounts.
- Just as the Republican National Committee ramps up a campaign on the outsourcing issue, the Washington Post has a front-page story about the president’s record as a job exporter. The paper found that under his administration, the U.S. has continued to export jobs at a faster pace than they are created at home. The RNC has a new site on the exact same topic.
- The New York Times looks at Romney’s time at Harvard.
- Vulnerable Democrats may be reluctant to campaign with the president, but first lady Michelle Obama is in high demand this year, Roll Call’s Shira Toeplitz reports.
- Where will Mr. Obama campaign this week? A handful of elected officials say it’s Roanoke, Va.
- “If we lose this election, it will be because we didn’t close the gap enough when we had the chance,” the Obama campaign wrote supporters in an email Monday, announcing the president had raised $71 million in June, far less than Romney’s $106 million haul.
- The campaign also released more details about the Obama fundraising for June. Tweeting from @BarackObama, operatives said that in sum, more than 2.4 million people have donated. In June, 181,000 gave for the first time, and the average donation was $52.54.
- Charlie Cook writes about the flip side of the referendum coin for Romney: defining himself for voters. The political sage writes that Romney will have no chance of winning in November if he does not get out in front of his own narrative. Adult citizens who have registered with their state election commissions, i.e. voters, don’t just vote to fire the president, they vote to hire the challenger.
- Roll Call’s Steven Dennis investigated and found that senior White House adviser David Plouffe is the only member of the Obama administration to attend a fundraiser for a pro-Obama super PAC so far, despite an announcement in February that White House officials and Cabinet members would participate.
- The last line of Michael Gerson’s column Tuesday should be enough to give the Obama campaign pause: “In this case, Obama could well suffer a Carter-like collapse, circa 1980. Not because of an ideological shift but a simple, collective judgment: He did not deliver recovery.”
- Romney and supporters of Texas Rep. Ron Paul are “burning up the phone lines,” in Nebraska to influence the crucial convention this weekend, Talking Points Memo reports.
- This exists.
- And here is something for you Morning Line readers out there who have a four-legged friend in the house.
“If Romney wins the White House he will have more grandchildren than any president in history” cbsnews.com/8301-250_162-5…
— McKay Coppins (@mckaycoppins) July 10, 2012
Resolved: “Clown question bro” has jumped the shark
— amy walter (@amyewalter) July 10, 2012
Here’s the full Statement of Administration Policy on House GOP’s Obamacare repeal bill. 1.usa.gov/NaRoRK
— jennifer bendery (@jbendery) July 9, 2012
Announcing later this morning, PollTracker mobile (iPhone), fresh poll data on every race in USA, live notifications on yr favorite contests
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) July 10, 2012
OUTSIDE THE LINES
- In the too-close-to-call Massachusetts Senate race, Democratic nominee Elizabeth Warren raised $8.6 million in June.
- The House Ethics Committee announced it would formally launch an investigation looking into allegations that Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., used her position in Congress to benefit her husband’s business interests. Berkley is locked in a tight contest against appointed Sen. Dean Heller.
- The New York Times on cracks in GOP unity on repealing health care.
- Stu focuses his Roll Call column on battleground Wisconsin.
- A new consulting firm launched to boost libertarians, Kyle Trygstad writes in Shop Talk.
- The Wall Street Journal takes a deep dive into political spending by unions on the front page of the paper Tuesday. According to the Journal’s report, unions spent $4.4 billion between 2005 and 2011 on political activity and campaign support.
- The Christian Science Monitor has a behind-the-scenes look at Gallup’s polling operation.
- Politico reports that Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine has bought more TV time, bringing his total ad reservations for the Senate contest to a full $3.5 million.
- What would you ask Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales? The NewsHour hosts a chat with him Tuesday.
- Friend of the NewsHour David Brooks penned a heartbreaking column Tuesday about the effect of income inequality on the attention our children receive.
Katelyn Polantz and Alex Bruns contributed to this report
ON THE TRAIL
All events are listed in Eastern Time.
- President Obama travels to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he holds a roundtable discussion with a local family at 12:20 p.m. and delivers remarks on middle-class tax relief at a campaign event at 1:50 p.m.
- Mitt Romney holds a town hall in Grand Junction, Colo., at 12:35 p.m.
- First lady Michelle Obama makes two Florida campaign appearances: in Miami at 2 p.m. and Orlando at 5:30 p.m.
- Vice President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the National Council of La Raza annual conference in Las Vegas at 3:15 p.m. and attends a campaign event in Park City, Utah, at 10 p.m.
All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:
For more political coverage, visit our politics page.
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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.