President Barack Obama’s remark that the private-sector economy is “doing fine” will have little effect on the November election, his campaign’s senior adviser said, even as Republicans continued to spotlight the comment to gain political ground.
“I think the American people are smarter than that,” Obama aide David Axelrod said on ABC’s “This Week” program yesterday when asked whether Obama would suffer lasting damage from the June 8 remark he made to reporters at the White House.
Voters “understand the president called the press conference to say that because of the storm clouds that are rolling in from Europe and elsewhere, we need to undergird our economy,” Axelrod said. “And he called the press conference to promote several steps he thought we needed to take to strengthen job creation.”
The comment opened up Obama to a barrage of criticism from Republicans, with Mitt Romney, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, saying it underscored his case that Obama is out of touch with the anxieties of average Americans.
Following up on Romney’s June 8 attack in Iowa, his campaign released a Web video yesterday showing several people talking about job losses, personal bankruptcy and their struggle to find work. The 54-second video replays a clip of Obama’s remarks four times before closing with, “No, Mr. President, we are not doing fine.”
The Republican National Committee released a similar Web video shortly after Obama made his comment at the news conference he called to press his case that Europe’s fiscal crisis is proving a drag on the U.S. economic recovery, as are layoffs by state and local governments. Taking note of private employers adding 4.3 million jobs over the last 27 months, he said, “The private sector is doing fine.”
The focus on the comment comes as Obama has suffered other recent setbacks to his re-election bid. These included a June 1 report showing jobs in the U.S. grew by 69,000 in May -- the fewest in a year and less than the most pessimistic forecast in a Bloomberg News survey of private economists -- and that the unemployment rate increased to 8.2 percent last month from 8.1 percent in April.
Democrats and union allies failed in a June 5 recall vote to oust Republican Governor Scott Walker from office in Wisconsin, a state Obama’s campaign is counting on in the November election. And new fundraising numbers released June 7 showed Republicans and Romney’s campaign outraised the president and Democrats in May by almost 30 percent.
Axelrod dismissed the long-range political impact of these developments, saying what happens in June will have minimal impact with voters.
“I suspect much of this will be of little consequence,” he said on ABC.
He declined to answer directly, during a separate appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” program, whether he agreed with Obama’s “doing fine” remark.
“The private sector -- we need to accelerate job creation in the private sector,” Axelrod said.
Obama tried to limit the fallout from his remark, saying later on June 8 that it is “absolutely clear that the economy is not doing fine.”
Axelrod yesterday sought to shift attention to Romney’s opposition to Obama’s effort to get Congress to pass measures to stem the cutbacks in public-sector employment.
“I would suggest he’s living on a different planet if he thinks that’s a prescription for a stronger economy,” Axelrod said of Romney on ABC.
Focusing on teacher cutbacks, Axelrod said “it’s bad in the short term for our economy, because those are good middle- class jobs, and it’s bad in the long term for our economy because we’re not going to win and our kids aren’t going to win unless we invest in education.”
Romney, in his June 8 comments in Iowa, scoffed at the president’s support for “more firemen, more policeman, more teachers.”
“Did he not get the message of Wisconsin?” Romney asked, referring to the recall bid that was spurred by Walker’s efforts to lessen the clout of public-employee unions.
The recall result, in which Walker beat Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett by 53 percent to 46 percent, has raised questions about how vulnerable Obama is to losing Wisconsin -- a state he carried handily four years ago -- in this year’s election.
Walker said yesterday that his victory means Romney can be competitive in the state, which Obama campaign manager Jim Messina listed as “undecided” in a campaign video released June 4 -- the day before the recall vote.
On CBS’ “Face the Nation” program, Walker urged Romney to follow his political lead, saying that to win in November the former Massachusetts governor must be “willing to stand up, take on” tough decisions.
“Governor Romney has a shot if the ‘R’ doesn’t stand for Republican, but reformer,” Walker said.
He added, “I don’t think we win if it’s just about a referendum on Barack Obama.”
Still, politicians from both parties discounted the importance of the recall election.
“It would be a huge mistake for Republicans to misread Wisconsin as some kind of great harbinger,” Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, a Republican, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
He cautioned that it’s “not even clear that Governor Romney will be that strong in Wisconsin” in November.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former White House chief of staff, said Wisconsin voters rejected using a recall to settle a public policy dispute over Walker’s opposition to collective bargaining rights for public employees.
“I think people know when you’re recalled, it’s got to be something severe,” Emanuel said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” program, broadcast yesterday. “You’ve committed corruption or something of that level. And I think that’s where the judgment was. This was not the tool for disagreeing with his policies on collective bargaining or other issues.”
Emanuel predicted the presidential race will be determined by swing voters in as few as five states, including Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.
“It’s five states, 500 precincts,” said Emanuel. “That’s what I believe.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Lisa Lerer in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at email@example.com