Now, economy tops war in election
Indicators like high oil prices and the slumping stock market have voters concerned.
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Within the space of a few weeks, economic worries have displaced the Iraq war as the top political issue in the United States, upending the carefully laid plans of presidential candidates and causing Congress and the White House to consider emergency measures intended to prevent – or moderate – a looming recession.Skip to next paragraph
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In one sense the rise of pocketbook issues reflects a glimmer of good news. Reduced violence in Baghdad has made Iraq seem a less pressing concern to many US voters.
But the apparent military success of increased US troop levels is only part of the story. Worrisome economic indicators, from spiking oil prices to the sinking stock market, are causing many American workers to fear for their prospects – reinforcing the political truism that in everything but boom times the economy trumps all.
The US as a whole may yet escape a recession. But important individual states – some with upcoming primaries – may already be mired in a slump.
"California, Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin: they're in recession. [And] they account for 25 to 30 percent of the nation's GDP," said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Economy.com, at a Brookings Institution seminar last week.
During much of the long run-up to the first votes of the 2008 presidential campaign it seemed as if foreign policy problems might predominate. As late as last November some polls showed that voters considered Iraq the No. 1 issue facing America by a margin of 2 to 1.
But by the time snow-weary New Hampshire voters went to the polls on Jan. 8 it was clear their chief worries were economic. A CNN New Hampshire exit poll found that 97 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of Republicans expressed anxiety about the economy.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton did well among worried, lower-income voters – part of the explanation for her surprising win. Since then both she and rival Sen. Barack Obama have rushed out new economic stimulus proposals in an effort to address recession concerns.
Senator Clinton's $70 billion package is intended to address housing problems and energy costs. Among other things, it would freeze subprime interest rates for five years and establish a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures.
Senator Obama's plan focuses on the more traditional stimulus tools of tax rates and increased government spending. It proposes, among other things, a $250 tax cut for workers, an extra $250 Social Security payment for seniors, and a $10 billion fund for foreclosure assistance.
"We can't wait for the next president to act. We need that middle-class tax cut now ... not five months from now or five weeks from now," Obama said last weekend.
Meanwhile, Republican candidates focused on their own economic plans as they stumped in troubled Michigan before the crucial Jan. 15 GOP primary.