Let’s get a few things straight about the presidential race between President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. It’s not a dead heat anymore.
Everyone knew this was going to be a close race, but as of this week, Mr. Romney moved slightly ahead of President Obama. Not by much, maybe a couple of points, but he clearly has begun to move into the lead.
Heading into July, the race clearly was a tie, with the Gallup Poll showing each candidate at 46 percent in its head-to-head daily surveys. But something happened this week that appears to have changed the political equation.
Perhaps it was Mr. Romney’s choice of veteran Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee. Or more evidence of the Obama economy’s persistent weakness and soaring gasoline prices. Or the tough TV ads Mr. Romney’s campaign has begun running after months of being punched around by an avalanche of negative ads in the battleground states.
Whatever the reason, the numbers began slowly but clearly to edge Mr. Romney’s way, and Mr. Obama’s numbers took a nose dive on his job-approval ratings.
The first indication that Mr. Obama’s shaky presidency was taking a tumble came Monday, when the Gallup Poll’s daily tracking survey showed his job-approval numbers plunging to 43 percent and his disapproval climbing to 50 percent.
Then, on Wednesday, Gallup’s candidate matchup suddenly was leaning in Mr. Romney’s direction, 47 percent to the president’s 45 percent. That’s where things stood heading into Friday.
While a number of factors are contributing to Mr. Obama’s slight decline and Mr. Romney’s rise in the national polls, there is no doubt the economy and jobs are the biggest factors driving this race.
Gallup proved that Thursday when it released new poll numbers showing voters were giving Mr. Obama some of the worst scores of his failed presidency on the economy, job creation and four years of $1 trillion-plus deficits that most trouble the American people.
White House morale, which reportedly is declining fast, must have sunk even further when staffers looked at Mr. Obama’s bleak approval-disapproval numbers on these issues:
Creating jobs: 37 percent approval and 58 percent disapproval.
The economy: 36 percent approval and 60 percent disapproval.
The federal budget deficits: 30 percent approval and 64 percent disapproval.
These aren’t just disastrous job-approval scores, they are among the worst in recent presidencies, including the one Mr. Obama followed in 2009.
“Obama’s ratings on the economy are significantly worse than all three prior successful presidential incumbents at this same point in their first term,” Gallup reported Thursday.
“His 36 percent approval rating on the economy is well below George W. Bush’s rating in August 2004 (46 percent), Bill Clinton’s in August 1996 (54 percent), and Ronald Reagan’s in July 1984 (50 percent),” Gallup said.
It’s worth noting that in Reagan’s case, the 1984 election was all about Reagan’s tax-cut-driven recovery versus tax increases proposed by Democratic nominee Walter Mondale. Reagan won in a landslide, carrying 49 states.
In many ways, the central election issues in 1984 were the same ones we are fighting over today. Tax cuts get the economy back on its feet, stimulate capital investment, create more jobs and produce more revenue to boot.
Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan are embracing lower taxes, just as John F. Kennedy, Reagan and, eventually, even Bill Clinton did, to build the economy, while Mr. Obama and the Democrats are running on raising taxes to grow the government and increase spending.
Mr. Obama and his party charge that lowering taxes will worsen the deficit, when one of the chief culprits driving the Obama deficits, besides his spending binge, is slower 1.5 percent economic growth and an 8.3 percent jobless rate. People who don’t have jobs don’t pay income taxes.
Meantime, another issue is emerging in the campaign that is hurting Mr. Obama’s quest for a second term, and that is his directive to rewrite the welfare reform law of 1996.
That directive will grant waivers to the states to override the welfare reform law, according to a study written by two top analysts at the Heritage Foundation, Robert Rector and Kiki Bradley.
“The new welfare dictate issued by the Obama administration clearly guts the law and seeks to impose its own policy choices — a pattern that has become all too common in this administration,” they wrote.
In a nutshell, Mr. Obama’s directive says the “traditional TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) work requirements can be waived or overridden by a legal device called the Section 1115 waiver authority,” they said.
The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said in a separate study of that section, “Effectively, there are no TANF waivers.”
The Romney campaign has been hitting the airwaves with an ad lambasting the administration for its backdoor attempt to undermine the welfare reforms. The Obama campaign has counterattacked, charging the ad is a lie and that Mr. Romney sought the same kind of waiver authority as governor.
Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler, while criticizing the Romney ad, said “There is something fishy about the administration’s process on this memorandum.” He gave the Obama camp “a solid three Pinocchios” for its shaky waiver claim against Mr. Romney, saying “there is little evidence that is the case.”
Increasingly, as Mr. Obama’s disapproval numbers have been getting worse, his campaign has been making up things that aren’t true. A sense of desperation and hysteria is creeping into its bipolar rhetoric, with Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. warning voters (guess who?) that Mr. Romney will “put y’all back in chains.”
Historically, Gallup says, presidents who won a second term had near 50 percent job-approval ratings. But with Mr. Obama’s ratings stuck in the mid to low 40s, it looks as if the end is near.
Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and former chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.