"Senator, what economy are you talking about?" It was the rhetorical question of the day thrown at John McCain Monday by Barack Obama after the Arizona senator said he believed that the "fundamental" underpinnings of the U.S. economy remain sound.
Coming on a day the saw the Dow Jones close down over 500 points, a complete collapse of a major financial institution and fears of more eminent crisis, it was a pretty good line to throw at McCain. The Republican candidate is laboring under the yoke of an unpopular administration at a time when voter's feelings about the overall economic situation of the country is anything but strong or sound.
As Democratic consultant Joe Trippi told CBSNews.com yesterday, both candidates are in a bit of a bind on the current crisis. "You can make an alarmist statement and trigger an even bigger fall than is occurring," Trippi said of the potential candidate responses. "Or you can go the way McCain did, which is try to help calm the markets, and be accused of not understanding how perilous the times are."
That tricky balance is much more pronounced for McCain, whose Republican Party has controlled the federal government for the bulk of the past eight years and receives much of the blame for just about anything that voters are unhappy with. Although he is calling for greater oversight over financial markets in response to the crisis, McCain and his party have long favored less regulation, as the New York Times points out today.
So it's no wonder that the Obama campaign is hammering away at McCain's characterization of the economy as fundamentally sound. They even have a new ad out today asking the question, "how can John McCain fix our economy … if he doesn't understand it's broken?"
A "broken" economy may make a good soundbite but is it accurate? More importantly, does if reflect how voters feel about their own economic condition? While voters universally say that the economy is bad, there's little evidence to suggest that they think it is "broken" altogether.
Obama's campaign is striking while the iron is hot on this issue. Each day spent on discussing the economy, the better it is a very good day for Obama. But in "talking down" the economy, does his campaign risk running up against some pushback among voters who don't agree that the fundamentals of the U.S. economy are broken? Or is it a winning political hand all the way around?
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