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Obama's Risky Convention Gambit

Four days of slash-and-burn attacks on the GOP and an emphasis on abortion in Charlotte could quickly be overshadowed by a bad unemployment report.

2:38 PM, Aug 23, 2012 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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It was reported this morning that weekly jobless claims are up for the second straight week, and this week's unexpected increase exceeded analysts' expectations. The numbers (372,000 jobless claims last week) don't suggest that the next unemployment report will be awful, but it's a safe bet that there won't be good news for the unemployed either. Weekly jobless claims usually have to be at or below 325,000 to be consistent with job creation.

obama and romney

Now let's look at the calendar. The Democratic convention is being held in Charlotte, September 3 through September 6, with Obama accepting the nomination that final night. Unemployment reports are released the first Friday of every month, so next unemployment report comes out... the morning of September 7. If it's another dismal report—and again, the odds are that it will be nothing to celebrate—it could step all over the news coming out of the convention.

This could be particularly bad if the Democrats spend the entire week tearing down Mitt Romney and talking about abortion. Since Paul Ryan has been added to the GOP ticket, there's little question that the Romney-Ryan ticket had shifted their campaign theme to a big picture economic debate. Thus far, the Obama and Democrats haven't been terribly willing to engage the issue beyond Mediscare attacks on Paul Ryan. And the recent news that the DNC is reshuffling the speakers at the convention to highlight pro-abortion activists following the controversy over Missouri GOP Senate Candidate Todd Akin doesn't suggest that they're going to have a substantive discussion of what they plan to do about the economy at the convention, either.

A new Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times swing state poll out today shows that the economy is still the number one issue with swing state voters. And while a cooperative media is helping Obama play up the abortion issue—yesterday the Washington Post provided coverage of the Akin controversy on pages A1, A6, A7, A15, C1, and C5—continued pressing of the issue could end up being a case of winning a news cycle but ultimately losing the campaign. The GOP has already swiftly distanced itself from the issue. By the time the DNC convention rolls around in a few weeks, Akin might have dropped out and the news from the RNC convention, a hurricane—or both!—could overtake things. A few weeks from now, if Democrats are insistent on putting issues such as abortion front and center while refusing to have a substantive discussion about the economy, they might find the compliant media, well, still compliant but not as compliant as they would like.

But the key is the timing of the jobs report. The Romney campaign must be prepared to capitalize on the unemployment news the following morning, and find a way to contrast it to the Democratic avoidance of the central issue of this campaign at their convention. If they can get effectively get that message out to voters that Democrats appear unconcerned about unemployment and the economy and are playing games to distract voters—and they may have to find a way to go around the mainstream media to do it—the Romney-Ryan ticket has a golden opportunity to step all over any post-convention bounce for Obama. (Note: It's far from a given that the Romney campaign will seize this opportunity. It does not bode well that the campaign hasn't even mentioned today's rise in jobless claims and it's barely mentioned in an RNC email.)

Alternately, given that the Obama campaign is looking at a big cash disadvantage for the remainder of the election, the Democratic convention is one of the president's last best chances to make inroads with voters. It's an opportunity the president can't afford to botch.

Oh, and did I mention that there will be a jobs report dropping Friday, November 2, just a few days before the election on November 6? If the Romney campaign is smart, they already have their calendars marked.

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