The state of the economy and the unemployment rate, the rising cost of healthcare and gasoline prices will likely prove decisive issues when a narrowly divided American electorate goes to the polls in November to choose a candidate for president.
That much was agreed to during a panel discussion on issues that will influence the outcome of fall campaign. The debate, hosted during a general session of the Association for Advanced Life Underwriting, being held in Washington, D.C. April 29-May 2, pitted Donna Brazile, a political analyst affiliated with the Democratic Party, against former Republican Governor of Mississippi Haley Barbour.
The debate was moderated by Ron Insana, a reporter for Market Score Board Report and a former senior analyst at CNBC.
“The country is about evenly divided between both political parties,” said Brazile. “The American people will ultimately decide the election based on the state of the economy and their comfort level with the character and leadership qualities of the two candidates.”
Barbour acknowledged that much of the media currently favors an Obama victory. He noted also that only one incumbent president since 1896–President Carter–has taken the White House following the term of a president representing the opposing political party, then lost his bid for reelection.
Insana pointed out, however, that no president has won reelection with the current rate of unemployment– over 8%-nor with a low level of consumer confidence.
Brazile predicted a close race, with the President winning by potentially less than one percentage point of the voting public. She said also the fall election season is likely to be accompanied by “outrageous amounts” of campaign spending and “vicious” attack ads from super political action committees (Super PACs) endeavoring to sway independent voters in critical battleground states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
“At the end of the day, the result will be too close for comfort,” said Brazile. “Obama will not win with over 10 million votes; nor will he get anywhere close to the 365 Electoral College votes he secured in 2008.”
Barbour agreed that winning over a small percentage of independent voters will prove crucial to the winning candidate. To that end, he said, the Democratic Party and affiliated labor unions will “carpet bomb” independents with attack ads contending that Governor Romney is a rich man who is out-of-touch with average Americans.
Brazile said that Obama will have to convince Americans that the next four years will be better than the last three of his presidency. She added that the financial sector, manufacturing and regional business activities are already rebounding.
Barbour countered that the president remains vulnerable on several policy issues. Among them: rising healthcare costs for businesses; an unacceptably high jobless rate; and high commodity prices, most especially for foreign oil. He said the president could easily double production of oil, to the tune of an extra 4 million barrels per day, by permitting greater drilling in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.
Barbour added the president also has yet to demonstrate a willingness to put forward a budget that will reign in growing federal deficits and that secures bipartisan support in Congress.
“The president has asked for the largest tax increase in American history,” said Barbour. “How do you expect employers to create more jobs when the president is holding a $1.5 trillion tax increase over their heads.