Hatch, Baucus Spar Over Impact of Repealing Oil, Gas Industry Tax Breaks

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May 12, 2011, 10:49 a.m.

Con­duc­ted 9/22-10/3 by So­cial Sci­ence Re­search Solu­tions; sur­veyed 2,054 adults; mar­gin of er­ror +/- 2.2% (re­lease, 10/10).

What Grade Would You Give ___ For Their Over­all Per­form­ance?

- A/B C/D F Obama As POTUS 48% 33% 18% Your rep. 40 42 12 Dems in Con­gress 31 47 19 GOP­ers in Con­gress 22 56 18

Dir­ec­tion Of U.S.

- Now 8/04 6/00 Right dir. 34% 36% 44% Wrong dir. 59 59 47

Do You Think The Na­tion’s Eco­nomy Is Get­ting Bet­ter/Get­ting Worse/Stay­ing The Same?

Get­ting bet­ter 28% Get­ting worse 36 Stay­ing same 35

Think­ing About The Eco­nom­ic Chal­lenges Fa­cing The Coun­try, Would You Say The Ac­tions Taken By The ___ Make Things Bet­ter/Made Things Worse/Had No Ef­fect?

- Bet­ter Worse NoEf­fect Obama ad­min. 40% 31% 26% Bush ad­min. 15 63 19

Which Do You Think Is More Im­port­ant Right Now — In­creas­ing Fed­er­al Spend­ing To Try To Cre­ate Jobs And Im­prove The Eco­nomy, Or Avoid­ing A Big In­crease In The Fed­er­al Budget De­fi­cit?

In­creas­ing spend­ing 50% Avoid­ing de­fi­cit 46

Which Would You Most Like To See Res­ult From The Cong. Elec­tions This Nov.?

- All RVs A Dem ma­jor­ity in Con­gress 50% 47% A GOP ma­jor­ity in Con­gress 41 43 Split con­trol of Houses 4 4 Un­dec 6 6

Over­all, Would You Say You Sup­port/Op­pose The Polit­ic­al Move­ment Known As The Tea Party?

Sup­port 21% Op­pose 22 Neither sup­port nor op­pose 49

It’s mis­lead­ing to say that the state of the eco­nomy de­term­ines wheth­er a pres­id­ent will win reelec­tion. But it is fair to say that when a White House in­cum­bent is run­ning for a second term, the elec­tion is first and fore­most a ref­er­en­dum on that pres­id­ent; the single most im­port­ant factor that voters con­sider in as­sess­ing a pres­id­ent is the state and dir­ec­tion of the eco­nomy. That is the de­fault factor un­less something hap­pens to shift a race’s dy­nam­ic and make the elec­tion more like a choice than a ref­er­en­dum. At least, that’s what I’ve al­ways thought.

We do not know what the state and dir­ec­tion of the eco­nomy will be next fall. Without a doubt, the pic­ture is bet­ter today than it was four or eight months ago. Still, very smart eco­nom­ists have widely di­ver­gent views on where the eco­nomy will be then. If the elec­tion were a ref­er­en­dum on Pres­id­ent Obama and the eco­nomy four or eight months ago, he would have lost. If it were a ref­er­en­dum on Obama and the eco­nomy al­most two weeks ago — when his ap­prov­al rat­ing tipped up to 48 and 49 per­cent in the Gal­lup Poll, and 50 per­cent in ABC/Wash­ing­ton Post, CBS/New York Times, and CNN sur­veys — he prob­ably would have won. (His Gal­lup num­bers have since trended down­ward to 44 per­cent; the de­cline likely re­flects more at­ten­tion on rising gas­ol­ine prices.)

But now I won­der wheth­er the eco­nomy will drive this elec­tion to the usu­al ex­tent — or to the ex­tent I had thought. More spe­cific­ally, will the Re­pub­lic­an Party nom­in­ate a can­did­ate who can cred­ibly com­pete for the in­de­pend­ent voters whose sup­port is so im­port­ant in gen­er­al elec­tions?

In­de­pend­ents rep­res­en­ted 29 per­cent of the elect­or­ate in 2008. In last year’s com­bined Gal­lup polls, though, they were 40 per­cent — a re­cord high. In 2000, Re­pub­lic­an George W. Bush won the in­de­pend­ent vote by 2 per­cent­age points over Demo­crat Al Gore but nar­rowly lost the over­all pop­u­lar vote. In 2004, Demo­crat John Kerry ac­tu­ally car­ried in­de­pend­ents by 1 point but lost the na­tion­al pop­u­lar vote by 3 points. The win­ner of the in­de­pend­ent vote doesn’t ne­ces­sar­ily win the gen­er­al elec­tion. But a can­did­ate has to be very com­pet­it­ive among in­de­pend­ents to have a chance to win. In 2008, the GOP’s John Mc­Cain lost the in­de­pend­ent vote by 8 per­cent­age points and the elec­tion by 7 points.

Re­pub­lic­ans should be con­cerned that Mitt Rom­ney’s num­bers among in­de­pend­ents have been tank­ing in re­cent weeks; he went from double-di­git leads over Obama in some polls, in­clud­ing one by the Pew Re­search Cen­ter, to a 9-point de­fi­cit. He is con­sidered the “most elect­able” Re­pub­lic­an. If oth­er GOP con­tenders have equally dis­mal or worse ap­prov­al num­bers among in­de­pend­ents, you have to won­der wheth­er this could end up as a choice elec­tion, with Re­pub­lic­ans com­ing out on the los­ing end.

It is be­com­ing quite clear that the con­ser­vat­ive base of the Re­pub­lic­an Party is driv­ing the car. These voters prefer someone from the pull-no-punches brand of con­ser­vat­ism that cre­ated the tea party move­ment in 2009 and handed Re­pub­lic­ans their House ma­jor­ity in 2010. It’s cer­tainly the GOP’s right and choice to do that. The cal­en­dar, though, says 2012. The mood of the broad­er elect­or­ate — and, spe­cific­ally, in­de­pend­ents — ap­pears to be very dif­fer­ent. If you see any of Obama’s ad­visers look­ing bruised from head to toe, it might be from pinch­ing them­selves in dis­be­lief.

A month ago, in my Jan. 23 Na­tion­al Journ­al Daily column, I poin­ted out that if Rom­ney lost the Flor­ida primary, after be­ing thumped by former Speak­er Newt Gin­grich in South Car­o­lina, time re­mained for a new can­did­ate to get in­to the race. Thir­teen states still had open fil­ing dead­lines then; 10 of them still do. Those con­tests could not provide a new entrant with the 1,144 del­eg­ates needed to walk in­to the GOP con­ven­tion with the nom­in­a­tion. But with enough del­eg­ates from states such as Cali­for­nia, the new can­did­ate would have a seat at a table and pos­sibly some mo­mentum.

If Rom­ney loses Michigan and has a dis­ap­point­ing Su­per Tues­day, this scen­ario could hap­pen. It is now quite plaus­ible that Rom­ney will lose the nom­in­a­tion. But it is much harder to see Rick San­tor­um, Newt Gin­grich, or Ron Paul win­ning it.

If House Speak­er John Boehner and Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell went in­to a back room, maybe ac­com­pan­ied by the four liv­ing GOP pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ees (Mc­Cain, George W. Bush, Bob Dole, and George H.W. Bush), with the doors locked and a puff of smoke emer­ging, they could de­cide on a 2012 Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee. That anoin­ted one would pos­sibly be a stronger gen­er­al-elec­tion con­tender than whomever the GOP will prob­ably end up pick­ing. But could such an es­tab­lish­ment choice pass muster with the base?

Simply put, the pas­sion and en­ergy of the Re­pub­lic­an Party today may well fail to pro­duce a nom­in­ee with a de­cent chance of win­ning in Novem­ber. My as­sump­tion was that Rom­ney would be the nom­in­ee and would make a good run. Now, I have be­gun to doubt both pro­pos­i­tions. His odds of win­ning the nom­in­a­tion are grow­ing longer. And even if he does, he has twis­ted and turned him­self in­to a hu­man pret­zel. I’m not sure how elect­able he is. The al­tern­at­ives, however, seem even less so. 

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