Jobs Back At Political Forefront

Guest host David Greene talks with NPR's Mara Liasson about the week in politics, including the jobs report, Romney's problems with conservatives and public opinion after the health care ruling.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's talk about the presidential campaign with Mara Liasson, NPR's national political correspondent. Mara, good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So, we just heard in Cheryl's piece that the NAACP is meeting. They're going to hear from Mitt Romney. They're going to hear from Vice President Joe Biden. They are not expected to hear from President Obama. What do you make of him sitting this one out?

LIASSON: Well, I think that, according to the White House, sending Joe Biden is like sending the president. Joe Biden speaks for the president. There has been some grumbling, as you just heard, that he's taking his base for granted for not showing up at the NAACP, that he's missing an opportunity. But this is a matter of scheduling. He has a lot of work to do in battleground states, according to the campaign. He didn't go to the NAACP in 2010 - Michelle Obama went instead. But the Obama campaign is confident that he can keep his support in the African-American community high - it's in the 90s now. And they're also confident about turning them out in big numbers, and there will be lots of other opportunities, they say, for the president to appear before African-American groups, and to make sure their enthusiasm is high.

GREENE: Well, speaking of confidence in the Obama campaign, they can't be feeling all that good about the new economic numbers. A pretty weak June jobs report. What are we hearing from the White House? What are we hearing from the Romney campaign?

LIASSON: Well, it was a bad jobs report for the president on his bus tour in Ohio this week. He was trying to walk a very fine line, saying that the country is going in the right direction but not fast enough. And, of course, in Ohio the unemployment rate is lower than the national average. That's true in many but not all of the battleground states. He's also trying to expand the frame of reference for voters, saying this trend started long before I was elected. Romney, on the other hand, has the much easier job. He can go out there and say the economy is weak, the president had his chance, he's not up to the job, it's time for someone new.

GREENE: We talk so much about how the economy can really make or break a president running for re-election. I mean, if unemployment does stay around this spot - 8.2 percent - I mean, I suppose the president will be relying more and more on getting his voter groups to turn out; the groups that came out last time - young voters and African-Americans. You say that he's confident in getting African-Americans to the polls. But are these groups mobilizing? Are you sensing that?

LIASSON: Well, he's going to have to because this is the great tension between demographics and fundamentals this year. The fundamentals are terrible for an incumbent president. You've got 8.2 unemployment; doesn't look like it's going to go down by November. GDP growth is anemic. Consumer confidence is down. The president is under 50 percent approval ratings in all the battleground states. So, you could say that President Obama is defying gravity by still being in a dead heat with Mitt Romney. And one of the reasons that he is, is because the changing face of the electorate are giving him a small boost. There are more Hispanics and young people and African-Americans in the electorate. They're making up a greater share of the electorate than they had in the past. And these are the groups that he mobilized in 2008. He is trying to do it again this year, but it's much harder. The Obama campaign doesn't have the wind at their back this time. There's less organic natural enthusiasm for the president. They have to go out and manufacture it with a grassroots operation, and they have a very good one. But we're going to find out this year if it's good enough to overcome the undertow of a bad economy.

GREENE: And conservatives certainly see the wind not behind President Obama's back, and they're beginning to grumble a bit, suggesting that Mitt Romney and his camp really not taking advantage of a moment of opportunity.

LIASSON: Well, this week we saw, not all conservatives, but some pretty important individual voices criticizing Romney. First, it was Jack Welch, who's a kind of corporate hero. He's the former CEO of GE. Then Rupert Murdoch, who tweeted that Romney's advisors were not up to the job. And then in a really scathing editorial by the Wall Street Journal, which is Rupert Murdoch's paper - which is a very important voice for conservatives - saying that Romney was in danger of squandering a historic opportunity to defeat the president by mangling his message on the president's health care law, by not laying out a bold, clear conservative reform agenda. And these conservatives clearly think that the fundamentals aren't enough for Romney. He won't just be swept into office by a bad economy. He needs to do more.

GREENE: And just in the few seconds we have left, Mara, the big decision from the Supreme Court and the health care law, in the week or so that's gone by, have we seen a big change on the campaign trail?

LIASSON: A little bit. Polls since the ruling show the public is now evenly split, instead of being a little tilted to the opposition. Here's a note of caution, however. A Pew poll showed 45 percent of people either didn't know what the court had done or were misinformed and thought the Court had rejected most of the provisions. Among young people, it was 63 percent. So, that either suggests health care won't play a big role in the fall or the president needs to talk a lot more about it and explain what happened.

GREENE: All right. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.

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