Candidates Hopes Hinge on US Economic Sentiment

    Michael Bowman
    The U.S. presidential race is widely seen as a referendum on Barack Obama's handling of a still-struggling economy.  Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's campaign is recycling a rhetorical tactic from a past era designed to amplify popular discontent over tough economic conditions.

    Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan says Barack Obama cannot hide his administration's economic record.

    "We are not going to hear evidence and facts about how people are better off [under President Obama]," said Ryan.  "You see the president cannot run on his record."

    The argument echoes a question Ronald Reagan asked during his 1980 presidential campaign that defeated then-President Jimmy Carter when he asked, "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?"

    Republicans hope voters will deliver the same verdict this year.

    Democrats argue today's high unemployment rate and sluggish economic growth are the lingering effects of a deep recession that began months before Obama took office, during a Republican administration.

    "President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did," said Former President Bill Clinton during his Democratic Convention speech last night.  "No president - not me or any of my predecessors - could have repaired all the damage in just four years."

    But most Americans have yet to see their finances improve.

    "We are in a very slow recovery," noted Gary Hufbauer of the Peterson Institute.  "Wages have not gone up, and unemployment is still pretty high. Against these earlier expectations, things do not look so good."

    Will voters punish President Obama for a tepid economy, or will they give him credit for helping the nation weather a devastating financial crisis?  Both Republicans and Democrats are gambling that the answer to those questions will lead them to victory.

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