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The Boston Globe

Politics

Economy will be key to election, analysts say

CAMBRIDGE — Former Mitt Romney adviser Mike Murphy said Tuesday that economic uncertainty makes President Obama vulnerable in his bid for reelection, but he stopped short of predicting a Romney victory.

“I’m saying Romney can win,” Murphy said during an appearance at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

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Murphy advised Romney until 2006 but declined to work on the former Massachusetts governor’s 2008 presidential campaign because he also had a working relationship with eventual GOP nominee John McCain. Murphy remained neutral in that race.

Public perception of the economy will be the biggest factor in November, he said, but there is no guarantee that voters will buy Romney’s argument that Obama is primarily to blame for a sluggish recovery. A general election matchup between Obama and Romney became a virtual certainty Tuesday, when Republican Rick Santorum dropped out of the race.

“Voters are angry,” Murphy said. “They’ve got their Frankenstein torches; they’re just not sure which castle to burn down.”

Murphy was joined in discussing the economy and the election by Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman and head of Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. Volcker said he believes the president will win but conceded the economy is improving only gradually. “The word was S-L-O-G,” Volcker said. “Now it’s S-L-O-W, which isn’t much better.”

Volcker also suggested “lots of bad headlines” about European economic struggles will work against the president.

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Ten years ago, Murphy said, domestic and foreign economic concerns alone might have been enough to unseat an incumbent president. But Romney will be hindered by demographic shifts of the last decade, he said.

Murphy cited a growing Latino population that votes heavily Democratic as a potential stumbling block for Romney. If Latinos vote on immigration policy, Obama will win, Murphy said. If they vote on the economy, Romney has a shot.

“You don’t have to win the Latino vote,” he said, “but you can’t lose by 30 points.”

Another problem for Romney, Murphy said, is that a substantial segment of the Republican Party — the segment that until Tuesday supported Santorum — has moved to the right in recent years. Romney does not relate well to this conservative voting bloc, Murphy said.

“Watching Mitt Romney try to connect with the Tea Party is like watching the Queen of England try to eat a chili cheese hot dog,” he said.

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