Wonkbook: Romney takes the lead

October 10, 2012

Welcome to Wonkbook, Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas's morning policy news primer. To subscribe by e-mail, click here. Send comments, criticism, or ideas to Wonkbook at Gmail dot com. To read more by Ezra and his team, go to Wonkblog.

Wonkbook's number of the day: 0.7%. That's the lead Romney has over President Obama in national polls according to RealClearPolitics' rolling average of data as of Wednesday morning. It is the first time Romney has led in the RCP average since the start of the general election. (During the nomination process, Romney briefly held a lead over Obama a full year ago.)

As recently as last week, Obama had maintained a sizable lead over Romney of approximately 4 percentage points. But after a strong debate performance in Denver, Romney has had the wind at his back in national polls, which have swung 4.8 percentage points on net in the last seven days alone.

The change in fortune has been mainly Romney gains as compared to voters walking away from Obama. Romney has seen his poll numbers rise from roughly 45 percent of likely voters before the debate to 48 percent; Obama has seen his support retreat from 49 percent to 47.3 percent.

Today, Wonkbook has much more on Romney's newfound lead in the polls and how it is affecting the race for the presidency.

Wonkbook dashboard

RCP Obama vs. Romney: Obama +0.7%; 7-day change: Obama -4.8%.

RCP Obama approval: 49.7%; 7-day change: +0.4%.

Intrade percent chance of Obama win: 62.7%; 7-day change: -12.8%.

Top story: Romney takes the lead

The poll which pushed Romney into the lead. "Mitt Romney has jumped out to a slight national lead among those likeliest to vote on Nov. 6, according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center. Pew, which in mid-September showed Romney trailing President Obama by eight points, now shows him leading the president by four points among likely voters — the first time Romney has led by that much. The poll has Romney at 49 percent and Obama at 45 percent...The poll is the second survey today to suggest a significant post-debate bounce for Romney. A Gallup tracking poll conducted in the three days after Wednesday’s first general election debate showed Romney and Obama tied at 47 percent among registered voters. We’re still waiting for more post-debate data, but right now, the limited data we have suggest real movement in Romney’s direction." Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

@TobinCommentary: Romney's lead is more than just the product of one poll. The race may have reached a turning point.

Read: The Pew poll survey results directly.

Romney is making big gains in the FiveThirtyEight model. "Mitt Romney gained further ground in the FiveThirtyEight forecast on Monday, with his chances of winning the Electoral College increasing to 25.2 percent from 21.6 percent on Sunday. The change represents a continuation of the recent trend: Mr. Romney’s chances were down to just 13.9 percent immediately in advance of last week’s debate in Denver. He has nearly doubled his chances since then." Nate Silver in The New York Times.

Up in the polls, Romney is going after Obama voters. "Mitt Romney is putting a new emphasis on visiting counties that voted for President Barack Obama in 2008, as he urges Republicans in swing states to help him push the president's supporters to switch sides...Until recently, Mr. Romney had been spending a larger share of his time in Republican-leaning areas, working to boost turnout among his party's core voters. But with the pool of undecided voters now small, Mr. Romney is stepping up efforts to strip Mr. Obama of some of his more tentative supporters." Colleen McCain Nelson and Patrick O'Connor in The Wall Street Journal.

@thegarance: Gallup bottom line: Romney post-debate bounce faded but he's up w likely voters bc of greater enthusiasm for GOP & likely turnout

Joe Biden's performance will need to shortcircuit Romney's gains. "Rarely has a vice presidential debate been as crucial as the one between Vice President Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan on Thursday night will be. After Mitt Romney’s lopsided victory over President Obama in Denver last week, the exchange will arrive at a fluid and potentially pivotal moment in the campaign. For the Obama team, Thursday will offer an opportunity to short-circuit the advances Romney has made since the first presidential debate. For the GOP, Ryan will have a chance to piggyback on Romney’s performance and solidify the gains their ticket has made in recent days. The stakes are also higher than usual because the participants have a standing beyond their roles as running mates. They are real players, not potted plants or a sideshow to the main event." Dan Balz in The Washington Post.

@ByronTau: Romney says he thinks that Paul Ryan has never debated before. Really? Not even for his House seat?

Romney is closing the gap in the battlegrounds in 2012. "President Obama holds a slight four-point lead over Mitt Romney among those likeliest to vote in the crucial swing state of Ohio, a CNN/ORC poll released Tuesday shows — an advantage that is slimmer than polls showed the incumbent holding in the Buckeye State before last week’s debate. Obama leads Romney 51 percent to 47 percent in the poll of likely voters, with one-in-eight saying they could change their mind before Election Day." Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

@BobCusack: Romney's speech in Ohio today sharper than his speeches this summer. Showing more emotion and anecdotes more specific.

That means it's all hands on deck in Ohio for both campaigns. "Two presidential campaigns dealing with sudden reversals of fortune descended on this must-have state Tuesday, one hoping to sustain a new momentum, the other hoping to regain its footing. In both rhetoric and demeanor, President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney came to Ohio acutely aware of the altered terrain. Romney, buoyed by new polls that show him pulling ahead of the president, has shed the languid pace that characterized his travels as recently as last weekend. He appears renewed, even ebullient, and so do his crowds...[T]he race comes down to a few crucial battleground states, none more important than Ohio. And Romney has struggled here." Bill Turque and Jerry Markon in The Washington Post.

The long shadow of George Romney's '68 run. "Before Mitt Romney began his first debate with President Barack Obama, he settled himself at the lectern, then wrote 'Dad' on a piece of paper. The Republican presidential nominee has followed this routine for each of his 20 GOP primary debates, Romney campaign officials confirm, an act that conjures up the image of his late father, George Romney, whose political career serves as both inspiration and a cautionary tale to his son...Interviews with campaign advisers and Romney family members, and statements by the candidate himself, illustrate the extent to which George Romney, dead 17 years, hovers over the campaign. From his father's experience, Mitt Romney has derived a series of lessons." Elizabeth Williamson in The Wall Street Journal.

@blakehounshell: Has anyone figured out why George Romney wasn't ineligible to run for president, since he was born in Mexico?

Top op-eds

WELCH: I was right about that strange job report. "Imagine a country where challenging the ruling authorities -- questioning, say, a piece of data released by central headquarters -- would result in mobs of administration sympathizers claiming you should feel "embarrassed" and labeling you a fool, or worse. Soviet Russia perhaps? Communist China? Nope, that would be the United States right now, when a person (like me, for instance) suggests that a certain government datum (like the September unemployment rate of 7.8%) doesn't make sense. Unfortunately for those who would like me to pipe down, the 7.8% unemployment figure released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) last week is downright implausible. And that's why I made a stink about it." Jack Welch in The Wall Street Journal.

@mattyglesias: In a truly free country, Jack Welch would have right to talk like a paranoid jack*ss without criticism or mockery.

ORSZAG AND ORSZAG: How Jack Welch could help improve U.S. unemployment data. "Welch’s comments demonstrate a stunning degree of ignorance and recklessness, and impugn his own credibility... Drawing from his own experience, he could have raised a legitimate point about how the employment statistics might be improved. As CEO of GE, Welch increased the use of real-time statistics to improve GE’s products and services. Such an approach could be used to strengthen our measures of the labor market and other macroeconomic indicators...Every month, the agency gathers data from about 140,000 businesses and government departments as well as 60,000 households. Yet this is an outdated approach to compiling macroeconomic information; relying on household and business surveys means that we are not taking advantage of the commercial, administrative and other data being collected at an exploding rate." Jonathan Orszag and Peter Orszag in Bloomberg.

@ObsoleteDogma: STILL DEVELOPING—Newsweek makes last minute offer for Jack Welch. Forthcoming cover story asks "Is Employment Real?"

DOUTHAT: Liberalism's glass jaw. "Last month, Republicans staring at defeat in November alternated between blaming Mitt Romney and blaming the American people, when they should have been looking harder at the flaws in contemporary conservatism. Now that Romney has surged back into contention, liberals are making a similar mistake. They’re focusing too intently on the particular weaknesses of President Obama’s debate performance, rather than on the weaknesses in Obama-era liberalism that last Wednesday’s Denver showdown left exposed...[W]hat we don’t see in this campaign cycle is much soul-searching from Democrats about the ways in which their agenda hasn’t worked out as planned." Ross Douthat in The New York Times.

@JimPethokoukis: I think a bit of debate between Obama and Romney on the business economics of Sesame Street would be most instructive

MILBANK: Why we need to forget Big Bird. "The Obama campaign’s new ad ruffles my feathers. It’s not the message per se. The Big Bird spot fairly points out that Mitt Romney seems more interested in cracking down on 'Sesame Street' than on Wall Street. The problem is President Obama has, to mix animal metaphors, taken the bait -- and he’s pursuing a red herring...The threat presented by Romney’s budget is not in the few cuts he has specified but in the vastly larger amount of unseen cuts he has yet to identify...That threatens much more than Muppets and monsters. Human lives are at stake." Dana Milbank in The Washington Post.

@jbarro: Big Bird is valuable intellectual property. You don't fire him, you sell him to pay down the national debt.

Top long reads

Jonathan Chait examines how the GOP destroyed its moderates:"Mitt Romney has been running for president as the Republican nominee, de facto or de jure, for eight months now, and the grand historical joke of it has not yet worn off. A party that has set itself to frantically, fanatically expunge its moderates, quasi-moderates, suspected moderates, and fellow travelers of moderates chose as its standard bearer the lineal heir, biographically and genealogically, to its moderate tradition. It entrusted its holy crusade to repeal Barack Obama’s hated health-care law to the man who had inspired it and run, four years before, promising to do the same for the rest of America. The man and his historical moment could not be more incongruous. It was as if the Mongol tribes of the thirteenth century, setting out to pillage their way across the Asian steppe, had somehow chosen Mahatma Gandhi as their supreme khan."

James Bennet finds the new price of politics:"Not since the Gilded Age has our politics been opened so wide to corporate contributions and donations from secret sources. And the new era of big money has just begun. Jim Bopp, its intellectual architect, believes this is a good thing—the more money, the better, he says. Reformers (and most voters) disagree. Their battle is over the most-basic ideas of our democracy; at stake -- according to both sides—is either the revitalization of politics, or its final capture by the powerful."

Music interlude: 'Part Time Lover,' Stevie Wonder, 1985.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Still to come:Draghing Europe kicking and screaming to economic stability; the link between health insurance costs and employee productivity; the fiscal cliff is a 'slope'; and the moneybags and paupers of the U.S. Congress.

Economy

Another jobs report for you to follow: ADP. "We here at Wonkblog aren’t the only ones obsessed with the monthly jobs reports...[A] major resource for prognosticators is the National Employment Report from the payroll processing firm ADP...Usually released a day or two before the Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the ADP surveys 270,000 clients and asks how many people they have on payroll...Because of the size of the sample, it’s taken seriously as an early indication of how the jobs market is doing...[A] look at the numbers suggests that ADP has, since the recession started, done a better job...Throughout 2008, BLS kept underestimating the number of jobs that were lost, while ADP, while not perfect, got much closer." Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

Draghing Europe kicking and screaming. "The president of the European Central Bank on Tuesday joined a small but growing number of economists who argue that, even though the euro zone still faces huge economic problems, there are tentative signs that two years of painful adjustment are beginning to pay off. Several countries, including Italy, Portugal and even Greece, have been able to increase exports. Labor costs have fallen in some of the troubled countries, which should further improve their ability to sell their goods on the global market. And in another positive signal, the flight of money from Spain was reversed in September for the first time since mid-2011...Recent data, though, shows that labor costs have already fallen substantially enough in Ireland, Spain and Portugal -- though not Italy -- to make it more feasible for them to compete on price with more efficient countries like Germany." Jack Ewing in The New York Times.

@MichaelMandel: Premature fiscal consolidation in Europe is bad. US big deficits look a lot better

The IMF is also weighing a new direct lending program. "The International Monetary Fund is weighing a number of potential roles to support European nations seeking aid, including new loans from the global lender, a top IMF official said Tuesday...[T]he structure of that support remains undecided...Among the options: the IMF could simply provide monitoring of a European aid program but no money, drawing on its economists to provide independent evaluations of the aid recipient. It also could provide loans as part of a larger European package, a process that would be closer to its usual lending programs. Kicking more IMF money into Europe could draw resistance from some of the fund's 188 members who own the institution. The fund has already committed more than $100 billion to loan programs for Greece, Ireland and Portugal, amounting to some of the largest loans in the fund's history." Sudeep Reddy in The Wall Street Journal.

Wells Fargo sued by feds for reckless lending practices. "In a civil lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court, government lawyers accused the San Francisco-based bank of concealing the true nature of at least 6,320 shoddy mortgages that were insured by the Federal Housing Administration. The government is seeking unspecified civil penalties that could reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars." Danielle Douglas and Brady Dennis in The Washington Post.

@pdcosta: U.S. civil suit against Wells Fargo alleges that as a result of false certifications by Wells, FHA paid hundreds of millions in insurance.

How austerity hurts the young. "[T]he nation’s growing debt is not the only threat to our children’s future...Right now, the next generation is getting shortchanged all around, with children too often treated as an afterthought in policies meant to appeal to their elders...According to the Urban Institute’s estimates, state and municipal spending on children fell in each of the last three years...[it also] forecasts that federal expenditures on children -- including direct spending and tax breaks -- will shrink to about 2.3 percent of the nation’s economic output by 2022, from 3 percent last year...If the next generation is going to be handed the bill for our budget deficits, we might as well make the investments needed to help it bear the burden. So far, we seem on track to bequeath our children a double whammy: a mountain of debt and substantial program cuts that will undermine their ability to shoulder it when their time comes." Eduardo Porter in The New York Times.

Chart interlude: 'Are you better off than you were four years ago?'.

Health Care

Is emergency room care actually a great deal? "Health care delivered in the emergency room is often derided as expensive and inefficient, the source of our health spending woes. Physician Robert O’Connor has a different way to describe emergency medicine: An incredibly good deal...He says that ERs only account for 2 percent of all health care spending -- and argues that patients actually get tons of bang for their buck...Another surprising data point: Emergency room spending is pretty uniform across different types of insurance coverage. That challenges some of the assumptions that the uninsured tend to visit the emergency room the most frequently. As it turns out, 89 percent of emergency room patients have some form of public or private insurance." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Study: When health insurance costs rise, productivity drops. "A new working paper from Truven Healthcare’s Teresa Gibson, Harvard’s Michael Chernew and the University of Michigan’s A. Mark Fendrick find that as co-payments go up, productivity drops — most likely as a result of employees skipping out on care altogether...On average, employees with chronic pain had 76.7 hours absent from work. But with every $5 increase in cost-sharing for pain medications, they saw an increase in absenteeism somewhere in the ballpark of 1.3 to 3.1 percent." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Health fee hits military families. "A provision in the national health-care law that lets young adults stay on their parents' insurance plan is popular with many families—but not ones in the military. Families covered by Tricare, the health program for active and retired members of the military, must pay as much as $200 a month to let an adult child stay on their plan until age 26. Most families in private plans now pay no fee to extend such coverage. Military families are starting to complain about the disparity, saying they can't afford those premiums and have let their children go uninsured." Louise Radnofsky in The Wall Street Journal.

Domestic Policy

New rules for bank stress tests. "The biggest U.S. banks will have to run two internal "stress tests" each year and publish some of the results on their websites under new rules that enshrine the examinations as a central plank of postcrisis industry oversight. These twice-yearly self-assessments, which apply to bank-holding companies with more than $50 billion in assets, are one part of a set of new stress-testing requirements unveiled by regulators Tuesday. Required by the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-overhaul law, the rules expand the stress-testing process already in place for the biggest banks by the Federal Reserve and add testing for banks with more than $10 billion in assets." Victoria McGrane in The Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, a huge crackdown on mortgage scams makes itself felt. "Government investigators brought charges against 530 people over the past year as part of a nationwide effort to crack down on mortgage rescue scams, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Tuesday. The cases, spearheaded by members of the federal Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, involved a broad array of schemes that victimized more than 73,000 homeowners and caused more than $1 billion in losses, according to Holder." Brady Dennis in The Washington Post.

Who would be Romney's pick for Fed chair? "Many of the challenges Mitt Romney would face in choosing a Federal Reserve chairman, should he win the presidency, are the same as those that President Obama would encounter: the need to find someone with an exemplary mix of skills as an economist, communicator and financial regulator. But he would have an added challenge. Romney would need to decide whether he fully buys in to the arguments he has made in favor of a tighter money supply. Is he willing to put the nation’s money where his mouth is?" Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

Q&A: Understanding the fiscal cliff.

The fiscal cliff may be felt gradually -- i.e. a slope, not a cliff. "Come January, if Congress fails to act, spending cuts and tax increases large enough to throw the country back into recession will hit. It is known in Washington as the 'fiscal cliff.' But policy and economic analysts projecting its complicated and wide-ranging potential impact said the term 'fiscal hill' or 'fiscal slope' might be more apt: the effect would be powerful but gradual, and in some cases, reversible." Annie Lowrey in The New York Times.

Swing states move towards acceptance of same-sex marriage. "A bare majority of voters in Florida and Ohio, and nearly half in Virginia, support the right of same-sex couples to wed, according to September Washington Post polls showing that the national trend toward accepting such unions has taken hold in these swing states. The growing support is a sharp departure from eight years ago...In Florida, 54 percent of voters think same-sex marriage should be legal, while 33 percent say it should be illegal. In Ohio, 52 percent say it should be legal, while 37 percent say it should be illegal." Sandhya Somashekhar and Peyton M. Craighill in The Washington Post.

The gang is back together again. "A bipartisan group of senators convened on Tuesday to take a shot at crafting an expansive deficit-reduction deal that would allow the country to avoid the looming tax hikes and automatic spending cuts of the fiscal cliff. Known informally as the ' Gang of Eight,' the senators kicked off a three-day series of meetings in Mount Vernon, Va. to discuss the possible contours of a bargain. But it’s unclear whether they’ll have any more success in bringing Congress to a deal this time around." Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

Meet and greet interlude: The 25 wealthiest and poorest members of Congress.

Energy

Don’t count on recessions to keep climate change in check. "For as long as humanity has relied on fossil fuels, there’s been a tight relationship between economic growth and the carbon-dioxide emissions that are heating the planet. When a country’s economy expands, its energy use and carbon pollution go up, up, up. When a recession strikes, energy use drops and emissions sink back down...The uptick in carbon pollution from a given amount of growth tends to be significantly bigger than the drop in carbon output from an equal-sized recession. Essentially, there’s a ratcheting effect, as people get used to a higher-carbon lifestyle and maintain it even during a downturn...In any case, few environmentalists think we should tackle global warming by inducing a lasting recession or stopping economic growth altogether...Instead, most tend to suggest that we try to 'decarbonize' the economy -- severing the link between growth and greenhouse gas pollution, so that we can have the former without the latter." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Report: EPA struggling to keep pace with ‘fracking’ boom. "Congressional auditors conclude in new reports that the Environmental Protection Agency faces big hurdles overseeing a U.S. oil-and-gas drilling boom that’s creating 'unknown' long-term health risks. One of two Government Accountability Office reports made public Tuesday lays out 'challenges' facing regulators amid the growth of hydraulic fracturing, or 'fracking,' the development method that’s enabling major oil and natural-gas production increases." Ben German in The Hill.

Iraq: soon to be a major oil producer once more. "Iraq's oil production is on course to more than double by 2020, the International Energy Agency said...In its Iraq Energy Outlook published on Tuesday, the Paris-based IEA said Iraq's oil production would reach 6.1 million barrels per day (bpd) by the end of this decade under its central scenario...Output has passed 3 million bpd for the first time in three decades. Iraq earlier this year overtook Iran to become the second biggest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, after Saudi Arabia." Alex Lawler in Reuters.

More U.S. coal plants to retire due to green rules: study. "More U.S. coal-fired power plants could retire due to environmental regulations and weaker-than-expected electric demand, costing the industry up to $144 billion, economists at consultancy Brattle Group said. In a new study, Brattle's economists forecast 59,000 to 77,000 megawatts (MW) of coal plant capacity would likely retire over the next five years...There is about 317,000 MW of coal-fired capacity now in the United States." Reuters.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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