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For Mitt Romney, it’s the economy or bust

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Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s path to victory over President Obama this fall is remarkably simple: Turn the election in a straight referendum on the incumbent’s handling of the economy.

While that sentiment has been kicking around the political world for months, new polling numbers from the Pew Research Center paint that electoral reality for Romney (and Obama) in stark relief.

On eight different character traits, Obama leads Romney by margins as large as 31 points (“connects with ordinary Americans”) to two points (“can get things done”).

Obama has double-digit leads over Romney on six of the eight character traits, including “willing to take an unpopular stand” (+19), “honest and truthful” (+14) and “good judgment in a crisis” (+13).

But, on the question of which candidate would do the best job of “improving economic conditions,” 49 percent of people choose Romney, while 41 percent opt for Obama.

What do those numbers tell us? That to win in November, Romney must avoid allowing the race to descend into a personality battle of any sort; Obama beats him if that happens. Romney has to keep voters’ attention almost entirely focused on the president and what he has done in his first four years in office on the economy.

The Pew numbers suggest that Romney’s victory is almost entirely predicated on voters being motivated by a single question as they cast their ballots: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?

The good news for Romney is that every poll we have seen for months suggests voters are focused like a laser on the economy. In the Pew survey, 35 percent said that jobs was the most important issue deciding their vote, while 23 percent named the budget deficit. Health care finished third at 19 percent.

History is also with Romney, as no president in the post-World War II era has been re-elected with an unemployment rate even close to 8.2 percent, which is where the number stood in the May jobs report.

Still, forcing a straight referendum is no easy task, as the Obama team is doing — and will continue to do — everything they can to draw attention to Romney’s party, his record at Bain Capital and his four years as governor of Massachusetts.

Bain companies shipped jobs overseas: The Post’s Tom Hamburger has a story that will be talked about plenty on Friday, revealing that during Romney’s time at Bain, the company invested in firms that relocated jobs overseas to countries like China and India.

The report says that Bain actually owned companies that pioneered the practice, which could pose problems for Romney going forward.

On the campaign trail, Romney has lamented outsourcing.

“They’ve been able to put American businesses out of business and kill American jobs,” he told workers at a Toledo fence factory in February. “If I’m president of the United States, that’s going to end.”

The story serves as a reminder that, even as the Bain attack hasn’t gone smoothly for Obama’s campaign, there’s always more to mine. And the jury is still out on Bain’s impact on Romney’s candidacy.

GOP more engaged, but Dems like their candidate: Some telling numbers from a new poll from the Pew Research Center.

The newest Pew poll shows Republican voters are more engaged than Democrats and paying closer attention to the election, but Democrats like their candidate much better.

While Republicans have an eight-point edge in the number of them who are following election news closely and a seven-point edge on two other enthusiasm measures, Democrats have an eight-point edge when it comes to being satisfied with their candidate.

Sixty-eight percent of Democrats said they were fairly or very satisfied with their candidate, while just 60 percent of Republicans said the same.

But the GOP’s advantages are the highest they have been in the last six presidential elections on two measures: following the news closely and saying that it really matters who wins. The GOP also led on those measures when they won in 2000 and 2004.

Those same years, though, the GOP was more excited about its candidate. So we’re in uncharted territory here.

Fixbits:

Yet another poll in Michigan shows the race neck and neck. Independent pollster Steve Mitchell shows Obama at 47 percent and Romney at 46.

The conservative group Right Change parodies the Dos Equis commercials by labeling Obama “The Most Arrogant Man in the World.”

Obama’s latest ad gets four Pinnochios from the Post’s great fact checker, Glenn Kessler.

Special election-winning Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.) resurrects former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’s (D-Ariz.) “Congress on Your Corner” town halls — the same event at which both of them were shot in January 2011.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin’s (D-Wis.) first Senate ad focuses on China.

The Montana Republican Party is on the air for Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) in that state’s Senate race.

Wisconsin Senate candidate Eric Hovde (R) raises money off his controversial comment about the media writing too many “sob stories” about those affected by the economic hard times.

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) lays out his term-limits plan in the state’s open Senate race.

Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-S.C.) Senate Conservatives Fund has dropped its first $25,000 on Dewhurst’s primary runoff opponent, Ted Cruz.

Even Democratic polling shows former senator Bob Kerrey (D) down double digits to state Sen. Deb Fischer (R) in the Nebraska Senate race.

Must-reads:

Wealthy Democrats Still Ignoring Super PACs” — Eliza Carney, Roll Call

Romney’s Cold War Strategy To Defeat Obama” — McKay Coppins and Zeke Miller, BuzzFeed

Ron Paul ‘Revolution’ strikes at GOP state parties” — Anthony Terrell, NBC News

Is Romney too focused on the economy?” — Michael O’Brien, NBC News

Mitt Romney tries to soften image among Hispanic voters” — Felicia Sonmez and Peter Wallsten, Washington Post

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