Prominent surrogates for President Obama responded Sunday to what Republican challenger Mitt Romney declared in his nomination acceptance speech to be the campaign’s key question: Are Americans better off today than they were four years ago?
Their answers were mostly inconclusive.
Romney borrowed the question from Ronald Reagan, who posed it during his successful attempt in 1980 to unseat Democrat Jimmy Carter.
Romney also offered his own answer when he was addressing delegates at the Republican National Convention on Thursday.
“This president can ask us to be patient,” Romney said. “This president can tell us it was someone else’s fault. This president can tell us that [in] the next four years he’ll get it right. But this president cannot tell us that you’re better off today than when he took office.”
On ABC’s “This Week,” host George Stephanopoulos asked White House adviser David Plouffe whether Romney is right.
“Listen, George, I think the American people understand that we got into a terrible economic situation, a recession that — the Great Depression is the only thing the country’s ever seen like it,” Plouffe said. “So they know we had a deep hole. It took us a long time to get into that hole; it’s going to take a long time to get out of it.”
Pressed for a yes-or-no answer, Plouffe did not offer one but credited Obama with preventing the country from plunging into another Great Depression.
“Because of the leadership of this president, we staved that off, we’re beginning to recover,” Plouffe said. “We have a lot more work to do. We need to grow jobs more quickly. We need to grow middle-class incomes more quickly. But the question for the American people is which path are we going to take?”
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll taken before the Republican convention showed 31 percent of Americans believe the country is better off than it was when Obama took office; 42 percent said it is worse off, and 27 percent said the country is about the same.
Stephanopoulos noted that when he interviewed the president last fall, Obama said, “I don’t think they’re better off than they were four years ago.”
“They’re not better off than they were before Lehman’s collapse, before the financial crisis, before this extraordinary recession that we’re going through,” the president continued. “I think that what we’ve seen is that we’ve been able to make steady progress to stabilize the economy, but the unemployment rate is still way too high. And that’s why it’s so critical for us to make sure that we are taking every action we can take to put people back to work.”
The most direct answer came from Governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland to CBS “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer.
“No,” O’Malley said, “but that’s not the question of this election.”
Biden says Romney too eager for war
Vice President Joe Biden accused Mitt Romney of warmongering on Sunday, a day after President Obama criticized his Republican challenger for not mentioning war at all during his GOP convention speech a few days earlier.
“He said it was a mistake to end the war in Iraq and bring all of our warriors home,” Biden said while campaigning in York, Pa. “He said it was a mistake to set an end date for our warriors in Afghanistan and bring them home. He implies by the speech that he’s ready to go to war in Syria and Iran.”
Romney did not mention Syria in his nomination acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention on Thursday, though he has said previously that he would consider military action to prevent the use of chemical weapons.
Obama made a similar statement during a news conference two weeks ago, saying, “We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region, that that’s a red line for us, and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front, or the use of chemical weapons. That would change my calculations significantly.”
The extent of Romney’s commentary on Iran was that “every American is less secure today because [Obama] has failed to slow Iran’s nuclear threat. In his first TV interview as president, he said we should talk to Iran. We are still talking, and Iran’s centrifuges are still spinning.”
Both Romney and Obama have said all options are on the table when it comes to blocking Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon, though the president appears more committed to economic sanctions against the country.
GOP convention puts presidential rivals in a tie, poll finds
President Obama will enter this week’s Democratic National Convention in a tie with Mitt Romney, after the Republican challenger got a slight boost from his own convention last week, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll published Sunday.
The race is deadlocked, the survey showed, with both candidates having 45 percent support among likely voters.
In a survey taken a week ago, before the Republican National Convention, Romney trailed Obama by 4 points, 46 percent to 42 percent.
“The fact that Obama and Romney are still tied signals to me that we’re not going to see any sort of sustained bump for Romney,” Ipsos pollster Julia Clark told Reuters. “As we go into next week’s convention, Romney will struggle to maintain even footing with the president — we’ll likely see a shift back towards Obama.”