As you’ve heard a thousand times by now, Obama will have a better shot at reelection if voters come to see the contest as a choice between him and likely nominee Mitt Romney — a choice between two sets of priorities, values, and visions — rather than a referendum on the economy.
Today’s Washington Post-ABC News poll suggests in the clearest terms yet that as Americans get to know Romney, they are seeing the election as a choice.
The poll finds that Obama beats Romney among overall Americans by nine points, 52-43.
The interesting thing, though, is that this is in spite of continuing high disapproval of Obama on the economy and on job creation (53 percent and 51 percent) and in spite of soaring public pessimism about the economy (89 percent view it negatively).
Obama’s edge over Romney despite disapproval on the economy seems to be driven by a growing awareness of Romney’s image and by the GOP nomination process. Fifty-two percent say the more they hear about Romney, the less they like. And Americans disapprove of the things the GOP candidates have been saying, 54-36.
* Public agrees with Obama on taxes, economic fairness: Two other key findings that may help explain Obama’edge: Sixty eight percent say the U.S. tax system favors the wealthy; and 72 percent favor raising taxes on Americans with incomes of over $1 million. Both those findings include majorities of Republicans.
The Obama team has insisted that Americans will ultimately choose between two overarching visions for the country, rather than make a choice based only on the state of the economy on Election Day 2012. Numbers like these — particularly when taken with Obama’s nine point lead over Romney — will only encourage the Obama campaign to continue making tax fairness and inequality central to his case. Especially since Obama’s overall approval in the Post poll has now hit 50 percent.
Romney has insisted that Obama’s focus on these topics is all about class warfare, division, and “envy.” It’s still unclear who Romney thinks he’s talking to when he makes that claim, and these findings make it seem even more absurd and out of touch.
* Is Romney’s wealth a liability? The poll is mixed on this question. In a big plus for Romney, 48 percent see his business background as a “major reason” to support him. Voters don’t see that background as a reason not to support him.
However, a slight plurality say Romney’s wealth is a negative, 44-43, because he benefitted from opportunities not available to most people. More think his corporate work cut jobs than created them, 36-32. And a surprising 66 percent say Romney is not paying his fair share in taxes.
Whatever the public’s view of Romney’s Bain years, on balance, all this will lead Dems to continue painting Romney as the walking embodiment of everything that’s unfair about the economy and the tax system.
* Obama to push housing plan, despite GOP opposition: It’s looking more and more like Republicans will oppose Obama’s plan to help those with underwater mortgages, partly because it would be paid for by a bank fee, and the Obama administration will continue pushing the plan anyway.
The Obama team sees this as a good way to continue drawing a sharp contrast between the two parties over the proper role of government in helping struggling Americans.
* Republicans split over payroll tax cut: Relatedly, Congressional Republicans appear to again be badly split over whether to continue the tax cut for 160 million working Americans.
Note that NRSC chair John Cornyn is effectively conceding that this is a political loser for the GOP:
“I think the election needs to be about President Obama, his policies and his economy and his enablers, obviously,” said Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a member of Republican leadership who in December opposed the Senate GOP’s yearlong tax cut extensions. “He’s going to try to make it about Congress — so I’m for removing any distraction that we can and keeping the focus on his economy and his policies and his enablers.”
* The downside to the good jobs numbers: As Paul Krugman notes, the danger lurking inside good news about the economy is that policy makers will have an excuse to stop focusing on job creation, imperiling the fragile recovery.
Footnote: This is why you’ll see Obama continue to run against Congress — hard — and insist that it not let up on measures to keep the recovery moving forward, such as extending the payroll tax cut.
* Romney’s casual falsehoods, ctd.: As I've noted here, one thing that’s striking about Romney’s falsehoods is how casual and effortless they are. Here he is again falsely asserting that only in America do people put their hands on their hearts during their national anthem, even though his 2002 Winter Olympics role would almost certainly have taught him otherwise.
* The Citizens United catastrophe: E.J. Dionne goes there, suggesting that the Supreme Court deliberately set out to give corporations and the rich near-total control over our political system, which is to say, it deliberately set out to turn America into a plutocracy.
* Gingrich’s last stand? Minnesota, with its large conservative and Tea Party insurgency, may be looming as Newt Gingrich’s last chance for a clear win in February as Mitt Romney’s grip on the nomination tightens.
* Quote of the weekend: Michael Bloomberg, on Gabrielle Giffords and gun control: “You’d think that if a congresswoman got shot in the head, that would have changed Congress’ views.”
* And Scott Walker is in the fight of his life: The Wisconsin State-Journal has a nice big-picture look at the state of play in the battle to recall Walker, which will again draw national attention and a flood of national money to this key swing state, this time in a presidential year.