8 Questions

Dan Balz on topics that will shape the 2012 campaign in the final 100 days

Question 6: Is the president hostage to the economic news between now and November?

Saying the president is hostage to the economic news may be too strong, but the weak economy is a main reason Romney has a chance to win and there's little Obama can do to change the trajectory.

Friday's report showing that gross domestic product grew at a rate of just 1.5 percent in the second quarter followed a June jobs report showing the third straight month with fewer than 100,000 jobs added to the workforce. Another jobs report is coming at the end of the week.

Lynn Vavreck, a political scientist at UCLA, argues that Obama is tied to what has already happened this year. Voters' perceptions about the economy, she said, become baked by the end of the second quarter. That's bad news for the president, which is why Republican strategists such as Whit Ayers and Jon McHenry argue that "if the news doesn't get better by November, Obama doesn't win."

The economy isn't the only thing that will decide the election, but it's difficult to point to anything more important. It's the central tenet of Romney's candidacy and the reason Romney advisers remain confident that he will prevail in November, despite some of the problems he's had the past month.

In the latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, Romney gets higher ratings on fixing the economy. The latest ad from the Republican National Committee is a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger appeal to voters to get rid of the president. That ad ends with the line, "He tried. You tried. It's okay to make a change."

As Doug Rivers of Stanford University put it, the economy is "neither so bad that Obama is sure to lose nor so good that Obama is sure to win."