Is the presidential election about the past or the future?

at 06:00 AM ET, 07/10/2012

Voters in eight swing states carried by President Obama in 2008 are evenly divided on whether they will cast their ballot this fall based on what the incumbent has done in his first four years in office or what he would do in a second term, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The poll suggests an even-steven battle between the past and the future that carries major electoral consequences this fall.

In the eight swing states — Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Nevada, New Hampshire, Virginia and Wisconsin — identified by The Fix, 41 percent of respondents said their vote would be about Obama’s first term, while 41 percent said it would be about what he would do in a second term.
President Obama speaks about urging the U.S. Congress to act on extending tax cuts for middle class families in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Monday. (Saul Loeb/AFP/GettyImages)

Among electorally critical independents nationwide, 35 percent said Obama’s first term would weigh more heavily on their vote, while 49 percent said it was the prospect of his second term that would be more important.

And how independents came down on that question is hugely determinative of who they plan to vote for. Independents focused on a prospective second term side with Obama over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, but those prioritizing Obama’s first term in their vote preferred Romney by more than 20 percentage points.

As we wrote in The Fix’s Monday newspaper column, Obama has a past and present problem in terms of his economic messaging. Convincing people that things are bad but could have been worse is no easy task, and neither is simultaneously sympathizing with peoples’ ongoing struggles while also trying to project optimism about the gains that have been made.

These poll numbers reinforce the point that, if the dominant question in independent/undecided/swing state voters’ minds when they go to the ballot box is “Am I better off than I was four years ago?” Obama will almost certainly lose.

His path to victory lies in convincing undecided voters that the future can and will be brighter if he is re-elected and, well, won’t if he isn’t. And Obama’s campaign team clearly knows how important pointing the election at the future rather than the past is for his chances. (Hence the “Forward” campaign slogan.)

“The question for all of you at this moment is how will we determine our direction — not just for the next year, not just for the next five years, but for the next decade, the next two decades,” Obama said at a campaign event in Pittsburgh last week. “Because this election is not just about two candidates or two parties; it’s about two fundamentally different visions of where we take America.”

What Obama needs is for voters to look forward. Romney needs them to look backward. And swing state voters have one eye looking to the past and one on the future.

Crossroads GPS launches new Senate ads: The nonprofit affiliated with the American Crossroads super PAC is going up with another $2.5 million worth of ads in three key Senate races.

Crossroads GPS, which has been by far the biggest advertising presence early in the 2012 battle for control of the upper chamber, hits the Democratic candidates in those states for toeing the party line on issues including the stimulus, Obamacare and cap and trade.

Here are the ads running in Montana, Ohio and Virginia.

Fixbits:

Senate candidate Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) will face a formal ethics investigation into allegations she improperly pushed legislation that helped her husband’s business.

Sheldon Adelson leads a group of wealthy donors spearheading a super PAC to elect Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) to the Senate. Adelson gave $1 million to the effort in June.

Businessman Wil Cardon keeps attacking Rep. Jeff Flake on immigration in the Arizona GOP Senate primary, even after a report that Cardon’s business got busted for hiring illegal immigrants.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) raised $1.4 million in the second quarter.

Nebraska Democrats launch an ad hitting GOP Senate candidate Deb Fischer for being a “welfare rancher.”

Washington governor candidate and former congressman Jay Inslee (D) is up with his first ad, a 60-second bio spot.

Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice has endorsed Rep. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) over Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) in their primary.

The American Action Network, which often acts as a counter-balance to the Club for Growth in GOP primaries, is doing it again in a North Carolina runoff.

The party-selected GOP nominee for retiring Rep. Tim Johnson’s (R-Ill.) seat, Rodney Davis, raised a very strong $440,000 in his first six weeks as a candidate.

Rep. John Kline’s (R-Minn.) challenger raises good money, pulling in $250,000 in two months. Kline got a swing district thanks to redistricting.

Rep. Allen West’s (R-Fla.) Democratic opponent, Patrick Murphy, raised $508,000 in the second quarter. He will be outraised, but that’s not bad.

A majority of Americans approved of the contempt vote against Attorney General Eric Holder, according to a new CNN/Opinion Research poll.

Must-reads:

Obama’s record on outsourcing draws criticism from the left” — Tom Hamburger, Carol D. Leonnig and Zachary A. Goldfarb, Washington Post

Cracks Appear in Republican Unity on Health Law Repeal” — Jonathan Weisman, New York Times

 
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