President Obama and Mitt Romney are sounding more and more like they are already in the midst of the general election against one another, even as three other GOP candidates continue running for the party’s nomination.
After an easy win in the Nevada caucuses on Saturday, Romney ignored his GOP rivals and instead tried to rebut the positive news for Obama of the day before, when the federal government announced unemployment had dropped to 8.3 percent.
“This week he’s been trying to take a bow for 8.3 percent unemployment. Not so fast, Mr. President. This is the 36th straight month with unemployment above the red line your own administration drew,” Romney said in his victory speech in Las Vegas, referring to the administration’s claim in 2009 that unemployment would stay below 8 percent if the 2009 stimulus package were passed. “And if you take into account all the people who are struggling for work or who have just stopped looking, the real unemployment rate is over 15 percent.”
Obama, in an interview NBC’s Matt Lauer on Sunday, pointedly declared “I deserve a second term.”
And while not attacking Romney, saying he wanted to wait till the GOP nomination process is over, he strongly defended his record on the economy.
“We’ve created 3.7 million jobs over the last 23 months,” he said. “We’ve created the most jobs since 2005, the most manufacturing jobs since 1990.”
That debate comes amid signs Obama is gaining strength. A Washington Post/ABC News poll released Monday showed Obama with a clear lead over Romney in a head-to-head match-up, after months of results that showed them either effectively tied or the former Massachusetts governor ahead.
The economy is likely to be the dividing line in a race between the president and Romney. The president is making the case that while he acknowledges challenges, the economy is showing steady improvement that is proof his policies are succeeding.
The Post/ABC poll suggested that argument is working, which is why Romney in trying to undermine it by pointing out the struggles many Americans are still enduring. This debate is likely to continue for nine months.
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr