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Has Romney Found A Message?

The risk in pegging an election campaign to a specific issue is that the issue will be eclipsed by another or will fade in importance on its own. The campaigns of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have responded in different ways to slightly better jobs numbers. The Washington Post yesterday asked if foreign policy could end up playing a more significant role in the election than previously expected, though the Post notes that exit polling has not backed this up.

Economic fluctuation and the constant interpretation and reinterpretation of data make economic forecasting a less stable foundation of an election campaign than, say, asking simply if the public thinks they are better off now than they were four years ago. Gas prices have dented President Obama’s poll numbers recently, but that, too, may change. Romney, the more likely nominee, will have a less compelling argument against ObamaCare, for obvious reasons, though he can still run on his promise to repeal it. But beyond that, the question remains what kind of general election message will Romney present? He seems to have located one yesterday, and will be helped by Paul Ryan’s budget speech today.

Felicia Sonmez reports:

“I joke, and I don’t mean to be flip with this — because I actually see truth in it — I don’t see how a young American can vote for a Democrat,” Romney said when asked what economic message he would have for young people.

“I apologize for being so offensive in saying that, but I catch your attention. But I mean, in the humor, there’s some truth there. And I say that for this reason: that party is focused on providing more and more benefits to my generation, and amounting trillion-dollar annual deficits my generation will never pay for.”

He argued that while Democrats support “the greatest inter-generational transfer of wealth in the history of humankind,” the Republican Party is “consumed with the idea of getting federal spending down and creating economic growth and opportunity so we can balance our budget and stop putting these debts on you.”

“These debts are not frightening to people my age, because we’ll be gone,” he said.

This is an issue that will not go away, because rather than pass their own budget (which they haven’t done in more than 1,000 days) Democrats prefer to attack Ryan for trying to solve problems instead of Washington’s usual tradition of kicking every can in sight farther down the road. The Democrats, led by Harry Reid, have even targeted members of their own party who tried to work with Ryan to formulate a solution to the country’s debt and entitlement crises.

On that score, Ryan today introduced his newest budget plan. As Jim Pethokoukis notes:

Longer term, the differences between the Ryan Path and the Obama budget are even starker. By 2030, debt-to-GDP would be 53% under Ryan, 128% under Obama. By 2040, debt-to-GDP would be 38% under Ryan, 194% under Obama. By 2050, debt-to-GDP would be 10% under Ryan, over 200% under Obama – assuming that under the Obama scenario, the economy hasn’t collapsed.

That last line is key to Ryan and Romney’s overall message—that you can only calculate long-term projections of Obama’s spending plans by assuming the economy hasn’t collapsed from them yet.

In 2008, the general election time frame saw one foreign policy crisis and one economic crisis. John McCain looked better on the foreign policy issue because Obama ended up changing his original response to eventually align with the response McCain gave immediately. Obama looked better on the financial crisis because of McCain’s haphazard and frantic response. The candidate who won the economic issue won the election (as usual). Foreign policy will not be high enough on the American voters’ list of priorities to focus on that, but Romney’s pitch to the disaffected youth vote and his party’s attempts to establish itself as a forward-looking group of reformers may offer a serious message that doesn’t depend on monthly jobs numbers or the price of gas.