Democrats enter the economic doghouse ahead of Obama’s State of the Union

January 28

Beginning with his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, President Obama will lean hard this week into the issue voters have identified as the most important in their midterm election vote: The economy.

The challenge for the president and his party: Win back the political high ground, which Republicans have seized on the economy for the first time in nearly 12 years. That should come as troubling news for president and his party 9 1/2 months before election day.

Americans trust Republicans more than Democrats to do a better job handling the economy 44 percent to 37 percent, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. It's the first time since 2002 that Republicans have sported a meaningful advantage, and larger than any edge congressional Republicans have held over Obama during his administration.

Perhaps even more striking: The numbers mark a mirror image reversal from the eve of the 2010 midterms, when Republican picked up a historic 63 House seats. In October of 2010, Democrats held an identical 44-37 advantage.

The findings come as Obama and Democrats are looking to shift attention away from the the troubled rollout of the health-care law and toward the emerging debate over economic inequality, which Obama will highlight in his speech Tuesday night. He will hit the road to visit four states beginning Wednesday to tout his administration's economic efforts.

The question of which party is a better economic steward is increasingly important as the election draws near. Eighty-six percent of Americans say the economy will be important in their vote for Congress this year, outpacing all other issues tested in the survey.

With economic voters splitting 47 to 43 percent between Republicans and Democrats in the generic congressional ballot, the economic trust edge has yet to convert to a clear vote advantage. But it may also help the GOP mitigate trust deficits on social issues, the minimum wage and economic empathy.

Part of Democrats' challenge lies in recapturing enthusiasm on the economy among core supporters. Shifts among non-whites and young people have driven the GOP's momentum.

The percentage of non-whites who say they trust the GOP more on the economy has doubled from 15 percent in 2010 to 32 percent now. Among Americans under age 40, it's climbed from 33 percent to 48 percent.

There have been broad if unsteady signs of economic improvement in recent months. The unemployment rate fell to is lowest point since October 2008 last month. But hundreds of thousands dropped out of the work force.

Overall the news hasn't been extremely positive or extremely negative.

So how to explain Democrats' plight? One possibility is the that their economic message and policies have been overshadowed in recent months by damaging news related to the rollout of health-care law. Another is that the natural fatigue Americans experience with an administration in its second term is finding its way into various issues and the economy is no exception.

No matter what the cause, it's clear that Democrats and Republicans have arrived at a pivotal moment when it comes to talking about the economy. And it's equally clear the GOP should feel better about its standing.

Fixbits:

Hillary Rodham Clinton said the deadly attack in Benghazi is her biggest regret from her tenure as secretary of state.

New Jersey lawmakers combined their Christie administration investigations.

Clay Pell (D), the husband of Michelle Kwan and the grandson of former senator Claiborne Pell is running for governor of Rhode Island.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) leads Democrat Mary Burke 47 percent to 41 percent in a new Marquette Law School poll.

Mitt Romney criticized Candy Crowley's debate moderating technique.

Sarah Palin defended Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) reserved more than $1 million in TV time for his Senate campaign.

Must-reads:

"Democrats hope Obama’s State of Union speech will be start of populist agenda" -- Zachary A. Godlfarb, Washington Post

"Bob and Maureen McDonnell join the club: Political spouses facing scandal" --  Krissah Thompson and Richard Leiby, Washington Post

Scott Clement contributed to this post

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