The increase in the nation’s unemployment rate in June is a major moment in President Obama’s reelection campaign and comments by one of Obama’s top advisers minimizing the political effects of joblessness are “like nails on a chalkboard to voters,” a top Republican strategist says.
Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, told reporters at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast Friday that recent focus groups show independent voters think unemployment “is very important, and it is personal to them as we saw in these focus groups.”
Mr. Gillespie is referring to a series of focus groups conducted among independent voters in June by Resurgent Republic. It is a Republican group aimed at shaping the debate on the role of government. Gillespie is on the board of Resurgent Republic.
The focus groups included 41 independent voters. These independents – 31 of whom voted for Obama – don’t hold the president solely responsible for the economy’s problems, but are skeptical of his leadership and spending policies. They “don’t think he has made things better,” Gillespie said.
Jobless figures released Friday morning, showing the unemployment rate rose to 9.2 percent in June, are "reinforcing" data released last month which showed joblessness on the rise in May. Rising joblessness as the election draws closer “was a seminal moment in the reelection campaign,” Gillespie said. No modern president has been reelected with unemployment at its current level.
Gillespie blasted Obama confidant David Plouffe, who ran the President’s 2008 election campaign and now carries a “senior adviser” title at the White House. Mr. Plouffe spoke at a Bloomberg News breakfast on Wednesday, where he said that “the average American does not view the economy through the prism of GDP or unemployment rates or even monthly job numbers.”
Instead, Plouffe said, voters will vote based on “how do I feel about my own situation? Do I believe the president makes decisions based on me and my family?”
Voters “know the economy is bad,” Gillespie said. “When they hear people say, like the president of the United States, 'Well, just a bump in the road' or 'Things are not that bad,' it is like nails on a chalkboard to them. And for Plouffe to say, 'Well, unemployment doesn’t really matter in terms of the president’s reelection,' that will be more nails on the chalkboard to voters.”