As President Barack Obama’s popularity continues to freefall, he is set to launch a new re-election message — “I still need more time to undo the mess that George Bush left!’
The desperate strategy to beat Republican Mitt Romney in November is already underway and is likely to be augmented by a major speech the president is to give in Ohio on Thursday.
But whether it will be enough to halt the slippage remains in doubt as voters begin to look seriously at Romney’s challenge.
On Wednesday, two of Obama’s key economic advisers led the way, rebutting a Federal Reserve report that said household wealth had dropped by 39 percent between 2007 and 2010.
“The numbers are a tough and brutal snapshot of the financial crisis and housing bubble that President Obama inherited,” White House economists Gene Sperling and Jason Furman wrote on an official blog.
Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, and Furman, its principal deputy director, said in the White House blog that wealth “has risen every year” since Obama came to office, though it hasn’t fully recovered.
The economists claimed household wealth fell 24 percent between the third quarter of 2007 and the first quarter of 2009, when George W. Bush was president. They said Americans’ net worth grew by 15 percent between the first quarter of 2009 and the third quarter of 2010.
“Household wealth has risen every year President Obama has been in office, by a total of 23 percent overall,” Sperling and Furman wrote, citing gains the in value of mutual funds, increasing bank deposits and gains in stock values, aided by stabilizing home values.
Even so, they said, “These data show that wealth still has not fully recovered from the worst recession since the Great Depression and reinforces how much more work we have to do.”
Obama still holds an edge over Romney in most opinion polls, but the lead has been steadily slipping in recent weeks. On Thursday the RealClearPolitics poll of polls — which aggregates recent surveys gave him a lead of just 0.8 percent.
Throughout his first term, Obama has consistently blamed Bush for leading the country into the worst economic times since the Great Depression, but the longer he remains in office, the harder it becomes to convince voters that he shouldn’t carry some of the blame.
In his Thursday speech at the Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, the president is expected to try to convince Americans that if the country is to recover it needs to stay the course he has set rather than make changes under a Romney administration.
He will argue that Romney would bring back the weak financial regulation and budget-busting tax cuts of the Bush years, Reuters news agency said, quoting Democrats “familiar with the preparations for the address.”
Obama is already is making this argument to small groups of supporters, the news agency reports. "The last thing we want to do is return to the very policies that got us into this mess," he said at a fundraiser in Baltimore on Tuesday.
But Reuters says the strategy comes with its own risks as too much finger-pointing could diminish Obama’s presidential status and lead voters to question whether he is ducking responsibility
The strategy defies the widely held view among political analysts that most voters decide whether to fire or re-hire an incumbent president based on his own record. And an overly negative campaign could invite unflattering contrast with the "hope and change" motto that carried Obama to victory in 2008.
But many members of his own party believe Obama must put his achievements into context by explaining that he has spent his first term digging out from a disaster that they say was brought on by a Republican presidency.
They point out that the recovery hasn't been any more lackluster than those that followed recessions in 2001 and 1991; the difference is that the economy is digging out of a much deeper hole.
The 69,000 jobs added last month, while not nearly enough, should be measured against the 800,000 jobs that disappeared the month Obama took office, Democratic activists say.
"Even though 2007 was five years ago, it's very important to explain to people how we got to where we are," said Jared Bernstein, a former economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden.
Democrats also are aware that while Romney remains largely undefined to many voters, the budget-slashing policies of the former Massachusetts governor's fellow Republicans in Congress have spooked many Americans.
Democrats also see some evidence that the Obama campaign's attacks on Romney's record as a private equity executive may be resonating with voters, despite the objections of prominent Democratic allies such as former President Bill Clinton.
As the economic recovery threatens to stall for the third summer in a row, voters are registering deep doubts about Obama's leadership, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday. More now believe Romney would be stronger than Obama in dealing with the economy and creating jobs.
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