"The Sunday Political Brunch" -- June 3, 2012

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(Providence, Rhode Island) – I am back from my political “fact-finding” trip to Florida; and here are some of my observations from the past week in politics, with a look at the week ahead!

“Sound the Alarms!” – They must have freaked out at the White House Friday, when the national unemployment rate ticked back up to 8.2 percent. Wall Street also plummeted in May, and all gains for the year have been wiped out. This is not the news President Obama needs five months away from the election. The economy is getting worse, with little time left for the turnaround. Unemployment is likely to move up and down a bit over the next three months because of summer employment; but if unemployment goes up - even slightly - after Labor Day, Obama may be done.

“On the Other Hand” – While all of this might look like good news for Mitt Romney, it’s not all roses for him either. With Wall Street tanking at the end of May, it may have hit bottom. If it starts trending back upward and does so toward November, that gives the Obama camp some of the economic ammunition it needs. If unemployment ticks back down – I think the magic number for President Obama is 7.9 percent (or lower) – he’s going to be hard to beat. The key word here is “trending.” A lot of it is simply a matter of perception. If the economy appears to be picking up some steam after Labor Day, Obama wins. If it keeps faltering, up and down, without any consistent progress, Romney wins.

“Wisconsin: Take Center Stage!” – The ever-combative “Bucky Badger” tops the political spotlight this week, with Tuesday’s recall election showdown between incumbent Republican Governor Scott Walker and Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Walker came under national fire after he and the Republican-led Legislature gutted the Badger State’s collective bargaining laws for government employees. Friends in my home state are telling me it is close, and they are being pummeled by robo-calls, which sometimes come more than 20 times per day, at all hours. The most recent five polls all have Walker in the lead, with the Real Clear Politics Composite Poll having Walker with 51 percent, to 44.4 percent for Barrett.

“National Implications?” – A lot of my fellow political pundits are foreshadowing all kinds of national fallout, depending on which way the Wisconsin vote goes. I disagree. I grew up in Wisconsin, lived their half of my life, and visit home fairly often. While the recall election has been great political theater locally and nationally, it is hardly going to change the course of any other elections. By the way, while Scott Walker holds a mildly comfortable lead, President Obama continues to poll ahead of Mitt Romney in the Badger State, 51 to 43 percent. That’s hardly the sign of one state spearheading a national trend of any kind.

“On the Other hand, Part II” – Wisconsin has been one of the battleground states the past few Presidential elections. In 2004, it was the state with the closest margin, as John Kerry defeated George W. Bush by a mere 5,000 votes. Iowa is another swing state, having gone for Bush in 2004, but for Obama in 2008. I mention this because if Mitt Romney fails to win Ohio (with 18 electoral votes), he still has a shot at winning the White House if he can take both Wisconsin and Iowa (a combined 15 electoral votes).

“The Sunshine State” – The one thing that became abundantly clear on my trip to Florida was how crucial the state is to the Republicans. The more I analyze the Electoral College map, the more I realize that Florida is simply a must-win state for Mitt Romney. I can easily conceive of a scenario where President Obama is reelected without winning Florida. But I cannot some up with enough electoral votes anywhere else for Mitt Romney to win the White House if he loses Florida. To win the Presidency, Florida is mandatory for Republicans; optional for Democrats. There are a lot of implications from that statement, which I will discuss in depth next week!

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