Though GOP hopeful Mitt Romney handily won the New Hampshire primary, exit polls reveal a chink in his strategy moving into South Carolina and Florida, and it’s his looming problem of wooing the middle class.
Among New Hampshire voters who earn less than $50,000, exit polls show that Romney and Ron Paul split the vote. Romney’s success with voters increased as their incomes rose. He captured the highest percentage of voters in New Hampshire among people who earn $100,000 or more a year (47 percent).
ABC’s Jake Tapper writes that the Obama campaign is carefully examining these exit polls, which only bolster their hope that they can paint the incumbent president as the middle-class protector and Romney as a sympathetic friend to businesses and the wealthy.
But more immediately, these polls show the perception problem the GOP front-runner faces as the campaign shifts to South Carolina and Florida, two places plagued by higher-than-average unemployment rates; depleted housing markets; and high numbers of residents on food stamps. There, the vote of lower-income Americans is still up for grabs.
In this economic climate, Romney is going to have to appeal to residents as attacks mount on his tenure at the private-equity firm Bain Capital and Newt Gingrich’s super PAC unveils an unflattering documentary highlighting workers who say they lost their jobs thanks to Bain-run takeovers. Of course, this will all play out against the backdrop of South Carolina and Florida’s respective 9.9 percent and 10 percent unemployment rates — both significantly higher than the national rate of 8.5 percent.
And don’t expect Romney’s rivals to let his recent remark slide that he too understands what it’s like to fear the pink slip, i.e. losing a job. Really, Mitt? Let’s dig into that precise moment with the folks of Greenville and Spartanburg, S.C., cities where the latest unemployment rate tops 9 percent.
Romney and the other GOP candidates may also want to tone down or shift their rhetoric on antipoverty and entitlement programs once they drive into the South. The nuances of funding the food-stamp program through the federal government or through block grants given to the states (a point both Rick Santorum and Romney brought up in last Sunday’s Meet the Press debate) may be lost on South Carolinians, especially the 844,405 residents who collected food stamps in 2011. That figure puts the state on par poverty-wise with Alabama, Kentucky, and Louisiana.
And what about the Republicans’ recent play for conservative votes with the unveiling of their tax policies that largely cut rates for the wealthy and corporations? GOP rivals have expressed concern that the former governor of Massachusetts is not suitably conservative enough, but his fiscal plan is anything but moderate. It would make the Bush-era tax cuts permanent for the wealthy; eliminate the estate tax; and lower the corporate tax rate, depriving the federal government of huge streams of revenue. The lone nod to the middle class is the elimination of taxes on capital gains and dividends for a person who earns less than $200,000.
Try selling that in South Carolina, where the median income is $42,580 and where 17.1 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. This is not a state where legions of middle-class people are making piles off their stock portfolios investments.
Instead, Santorum’s tax proposals may gain more traction in socially conservative Florida. Like his rivals, Santorum would cut corporate tax rates, but he also proposes helping out families by tripling the personal exemption for children and reducing federal taxes that penalize married couples. His plan to charge no corporate taxes for manufacturers should also play well in South Carolina, where factories line the I-85 corridor between Greenville and Spartanburg.
Even with Romney’s consecutive victories in the GOP race’s first two contests, he still hasn’t proven that he can win over independent, low-income, or middle-class voters; neither has he shown any great skill for connecting with “normal people” on the trail.
As the economy becomes an even greater focus and as the candidates finally hit states still reeling from the recession, the Republicans may have to tweak their tax-cutting, anti-entitlement message. Romney’s top policy adviser recently told The Wall Street Journal that a big part of the campaign’s new economic plan would be looking at the benefits the federal government offers and digging into the idea of who’s truly poor and needs assistance. Not everyone does, the thinking goes, and cutting some people off or reducing their tax breaks could save the federal government money.
That’s a great talking point for the far-right and for economically healthy states like Iowa. It’ll be fascinating to see if that messaging holds up in South Carolina or Florida, where all of the Republican candidates need to appeal to working class voters — even those who occasionally need a boost from the government.
What We're Following See More »
Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.
Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”
Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."
In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-expected primary battle behind her, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) is no longer going on the air in upcoming primary states. “Team Clinton hasn’t spent a single cent in … California, Indiana, Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “campaign has spent a little more than $1 million in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone backer in the Senate, said the candidate should end his presidential campaign if he’s losing to Hillary Clinton after the primary season concludes in June, breaking sharply with the candidate who is vowing to take his insurgent bid to the party convention in Philadelphia.”
The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."