The two earliest voting states — Iowa and New Hampshire — also are gripped by economic worries, even though they have among the nation’s lowest jobless rates and relatively few housing problems.
Those divergent circumstances call for the kinds of tailored economic strategies that the GOP candidates have mostly avoided in the campaign’s early stages.
As the candidates seek to harness the economic anxiety eating away at President Obama’s popularity, they have focused on items central to Republican orthodoxy: reducing taxes, cutting government spending, jettisoning regulations and promoting free trade.
“So far, the candidates have been playing it a little bit safe and have been tapping into the general anxiety that people feel,” said Fergus Cullen, former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party. “They have been mostly sticking to Republican canon.”
As they prepare for Tuesday night’s debate, co-sponsored by The Washington Post and Bloomberg at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, none of the GOP candidates has been able to securely grasp the front-runner’s mantle.
Since the start of the campaign, one candidate after another — first Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), then Texas Gov. Rick Perry — has rallied and then faded in the polls. Businessman Herman Cain most recently has been catapulted to the top tier, alongside Perry and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
Part of the reason for the turbulence could be that many voters have yet to hear specific solutions to the specific economic problems their regions face. The difficulty confronting the GOP candidates, not to mention Obama, is that the economic problems — and possible solutions — vary widely across the country.
Factory workers in critical swing states such as Michigan and Ohio have been buoyed by the Obama administration’s auto bailout, which helped reverse the car industry’s long slide. For many of them, the idea of government intervention is a good thing.
But many workers in South Carolina think the opposite is true, partly because a government agency, the National Labor Relations Board, through a charge of unfair labor practices, is seeking to force Boeing to move production jobs for its new 787 Dreamliner from a nonunion plant in South Carolina to a unionized one in Washington state. Critics say the move could cost the state 1,000 jobs, lending resonance to the GOP admonition that government must simply “get out of the way.”
The Boeing case has been a rallying point for the GOP candidates, who highlight it as an example of how the Obama administration’s regulatory approach and its support of organized labor threaten jobs.