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Obama’s ‘08 economic advantage disappears

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Roughly four in 10 voters assess the economic proposals offered by President Obama and Mitt Romney favorably in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, a sharp contrast to the wide lead the incumbent enjoyed over John McCain on the issue in the 2008 presidential race.

In the latest Post-ABC poll, 43 percent of voters express favorable opinions about Obama’s economic agenda, while 40 percent say the same of Romney.

Compare that relative parity on economic plans to the 20-point edge Obama held over McCain in a 2008 election eve poll, and you begin to grasp the challenge before Obama when it comes to winning the economic argument this fall.

Go slightly deeper into the numbers, and Obama’s economic issues are even more acute. Among electorally critical independent voters, nearly three times as many have intensely negative impressions of Obama’s plan than positive ones. The news isn’t great for Romney either, though; independents break exactly 2-to-1 strongly against his economic plan.

Still, these numbers make clear that Obama’s one-time strong advantage on the economy had faded considerably amid slower-than-expected growth and an aggressive messaging effort by Republicans to cast Obama as fundamentally out of his depth when it comes to fixing the economy.

The poll data also lands amid a debate within the Democratic Party about what a winning message on the economy might look and sound like from Obama.

A small group of Democratic pollsters at Democracy Corps asserted in a memo Monday their party needs to dramatically shift “the economic narrative” away from touting improvements in the country's economy to one of deep empathy with the financial struggles of the middle class.

While the attack on “elites who are creating a conventional wisdom that an incumbent president must run on his economic performance” (in the words of the good folks at Democracy Corps) may be a bit of a straw-man, the real debate may center on different theories of economic voting. Do people vote their pocketbooks? Or their impressions of progress in the national economy? Or actual movements in GDP? Here, there are no definitive answers.

In a must-read, three-part series on the subject, political scientist Joshua Tucker charts the murky evidence from the 16 post-war presidential contests. But the conclusion may be unsatisfying for consultants eager to tip things in their candidates’ favor.

“Namely, the search for a ‘silver bullet’ economic indicator … is doomed to fail … because different parts of the economy may matter to different parts of the electorate,” Tucker writes.

What is clear — and virtually impossible to dispute — is that the American public broadly dislikes Obama’s handling of the economy. In the most recent Post-ABC poll, 55 percent disapproved of the way the president is dealing with the economy, and he has been underwater on issue No. 1 for nearly two years.

By contrast, Obama scores better when it comes to empathy with the struggles of average Americans, and holds the edge over Romney on understanding the economic challenges people are facing.

Given those data points, Obama must find a way to turn the current debate from one focused on his current record to one focused on which candidate would be better going forward — and better yet, which one shares the economic values of undecided voters.

It’s this last approach that may offer his best shot at re-election.

House primary recap: House primaries in six states got settled Tuesday. Here’s the full rundown of the important races:

* In South Carolina’s new Republican-leaning 7th district, former lieutenant governor Andre Bauer will face Horry County Council Chairman Tom Rice on the GOP side. On the Democratic side, Gloria Tinubu, a recently resigned state representative from Georgia (not a typo) nearly won outright but will face a runoff with attorney Preston Brittain, who had the support of the Democratic establishment.

* In retiring Rep. Mike Ross’s (D-Ark.) district, attorney Q. Byrum Hurst lost the runoff to state Sen. Gene Jeffress, likely hurting Democrats’ already-tough chances of holding the seat.

* Likewise, in Arkansas freshman Rep. Rick Crawford’s (R-Ark.) district, an early Democratic favorite, state Rep. Clark Hall, lost to Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington in the runoff. Democrats hold out hope for Ellington, though, in a conservative district.

* Maine state Sen. Kevin Raye (R) will face Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) in a lower-tier GOP target.

* In North Dakota’s at-large House district, which is being vacated by Senate candidate Rep. Rick Berg (R), state Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer beat out commission colleague Brian Kalk and will face former state representative Pam Gulleson (D) in a race in which the GOP is favored.

* The GOP primary in Nevada’s Democratic-leaning new 4th district was too close to call early Wednesday morning.

NRCC reserves time in 27 districts: The National Republican Congressional Committee is reserving ad time in its first 27 congressional districts of the 2012 election

As Roll Call’s Shira Toeplitz reports, the NRCC’s $18.2 million in reservations are split between Democratic- and GOP-held districts — a sign that Republicans intend to play some offense, particularly in Democratic districts that became more conservative thanks to the GOP’s advantage in redistricting.

For the full rundown, make sure to check out Shira’s report.

Fixbits:

Rep. Jeff Flake’s (R-Ariz.) campaign is up with its first ad, which proudly notes that “many call him the most conservative congressman in Washington.” Flake faces an emerging primary threat from businessman Wil Cardon.

Meanwhile, Flake’s Arizona colleague, Rep. Trent Franks (R), endorses Cardon.

The first debate in the Washington governor’s race is a snoozer.

Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh has endorsed Tammy Duckworth (D), who happens to be challenging a congressman of the same name, Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.).

Newt Gingrich says the U.S. electoral system is rigged in favor of the rich.

The U.S. Justice Department is suing Florida over its voter purge.

Must-reads:

Obama campaign’s rough patch concerns some Democrats” — Karen Tumulty, Washington Post

President Obama Can Lose: Now Is the Time for Democratic Donors to Step Up in a Big Way” — Steve Rosenthal, Huffington Post

Senate primaries in four states set key matchups” — Rosalind S. Helderman, Washington Post

Tea Party Tries to Sway GOP Platform” — Janie Lorber, Roll Call

Where are the women? The 20 best (and worst) Congressional districts for female candidates” — Melinda Henneberger, Washington Post

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