“It’s Still About the Economy, And We’re Not Stupid”

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney announces “the start of a new campaign.”

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, a Republican Party presidential hopeful, addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington DC, February 10, 2010
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, a Republican Party presidential hopeful, addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington DC, February 10, 2010 (Gage Skidmore)

Paraphrasing Bill Clinton’s winning argument in the 1992 presidential election against incumbent George H.W. Bush, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Tuesday argued that November’s vote is “still about the economy, and we’re not stupid.”

Romney spoke after winning five party primary elections in the northeastern United States where the former governor of Massachusetts, who is perceived as a moderate conservative, is popular. Although he is yet to assemble the votes that are necessary to clinch the nomination, his remaining rivals no longer have a path of victory.

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who emerged as Romney’s right-wing challenger in February, dropped out of the race earlier this month. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich is rumored to contemplate an exit. The libertarian congressman Ron Paul has distanced himself so far from mainstream Republican voters with his anti-war rhetoric that he hasn’t won in a single state.

Lacking a credible opposition on the right, Romney announced “the start of a new campaign” on Tuesday night, one against Democratic incumbent Barack Obama.

“The last few years have been the best that Obama can do,” according to Romney, “but it’s not the best America can do.”

Tonight is the beginning of the end of the disappointments of the Obama years. And it’s the start of a new and better chapter that we will write together.

If he is the nominee, Democrats will likely seek to portray Romney as a member of an elusive “1 percent” which, according to left-wing activist, owns the bulks of capital in America at the expense of the underprivileged “99 percent.”

The president had tried to capitalize on this sentiment by proposing tax hikes for millionaires like Romney (and himself).

The Republican has refused to apologize for his enormous wealth however and argues that his experience as a businessman will prove an asset if he is president. “If people think that there is something wrong with being successful in America, then they better vote for the other guy,” he said in an appearance on Fox News Sunday in February, “because I’ve been extraordinarily successful and I want to use that success and that knowhow to help the American people.”

I, by virtue of my experience, know what it takes to create jobs. I’ve also balanced budgets. Other people talk about doing that. I’ve actually done it as a governor, as the head of an Olympics and as a guy who’s run businesses. I’m going to get America back on track.

Among centrist and independent voters, the message hasn’t resonated yet. Romney’s unfavorable ratings increased during the primary campaign in critical swing states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. President Obama is pulling ahead of him in the areas that will likely decide the outcome of November’s election where unemployment numbers and home foreclosures are still high.

Nationwide, unemployment hovers around 8 percent, the same rate when Obama took office in January 2009. In reality, many more Americans are probably out of work because people who have left the labor force aren’t counted by the government as jobless.

To win, Romney must appeal to blue-collar voters in places like Ohio who have seen their jobs displaced by the sort of multinational corporations that he is associated with or to suburban, middle-class voters in states like Florida and Pennsylvania who generally don’t share the Republican Party’s social conservatism. If Democrats manage to drag Romney into debates about abortion, contraception coverage and gay marriage, which most Republicans oppose, they could deny him a victory in November.

According to the most recent Gallup poll, 49 percent of Americans would vote for Obama and 43 percent for Romney if elections were held today. The president’s approval rating has climbed up from a low 44 percent last month to 50 percent according to the same polling company.