HANOVER, N.H. – It’s no secret that with the country still stuck in the economic doldrums, the economy will be the key issue in the 2012 presidential elections – and when the Republican candidates gather for their latest debate tonight here at Dartmouth College, it will once again take center stage.
Last Friday the Labor Department announced that the nation’s unemployment rate remains at 9.1 percent. For Latinos, however, it is even higher: 11.3 percent, where it has been stuck for months now. For blacks, it is worse still: 16 percent as of the end of September.
So what are the key GOP candidates proposing to do about it? Let’s focus on the top three contenders in the most recent polls: former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain.
Romney has already unveiled his plan to jumpstart job creation. In a speech last month in North Las Vegas, Romney claimed he could bring the unemployment rate down to 5.9 percent by the end of his first term and create over 11 million new private sector jobs.
“It’s a practical plan to get America back to work,” he said. “It’s also immediate. This isn’t something that’s going to take years to put into place.”
“America should be a job machine,” he stated.
His plan – outlined in a 161-page book – included reducing the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, surveying the nation’s energy reserves to find new ways to promote domestic energy production, repealing President Obama’s health care reforms, and – on the international front – implementing the free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, and sanctioning China for currency manipulation.
“The right answer for America is to stop the growth of the federal government and to start the growth of the private sector,” Romney said at a GOP debate last month in Tampa.
Perry, meanwhile, has yet to unveil his economic plan for the country, even though he regularly touts his job creation record in the Lone Star State.
“This president does not understand how to free up the small businessmen and women or, for that matter, Wall Street,” Perry said in Tampa. “You give people the opportunity to risk their capital by lowering the tax burden on them, by lowering the regulatory climate, and you will see an American economy that takes off like a rocket ship. And that’s what we need to be focusing on in this country, freeing up the small businessmen and women to do what they know how to do, which is risk their capital and give them half a chance to have an opportunity to have a return on that investment, and they will go risk their capital. That’s what the president of the United States needs to do: quit the spending. Give clear regulatory relief and reform the tax code.”
At a debate only days earlier in California, Perry had gone toe to toe with Romney on their economic resumes, yet another sign that the issue of jobs growth could prove decisive in the upcoming election.
“Michael Dukakis created jobs three times faster than you did, Mitt,” Perry said, referencing the former Massachusetts governor.
“As a matter of fact,” Romney replied, “George Bush and his predecessors created jobs at a faster rate than you did.”
Romney created 30,900 jobs during his four years at the helm of Massachusetts, an average of around 8,000 jobs each year. While Texas has enjoyed great jobs growth under Perry, the economic situation there is far from perfect. The Center for Public Policy Priorities, an Austin non-profit, found that the poverty rate there is higher than the rest of the country’s – and growing faster, too.
Cain has his own unique resume, as well as a unique plan to go with it. He likes to brag that he rescued Godfather’s Pizza from bankruptcy. And his “9-9-9″ plan is a staple of his stump speech. The proposal would change the tax code to a 9 percent business flat tax, a 9 percent personal income flat tax, and a 9 percent sales tax. It’s a simple enough proposal – and that may be part of the reason why Cain has started to resonate with voters in recent weeks.
A little over a month ago Cain languished in the polls with only 4 percent support, but things have changed in a hurry. Cain was tied with Perry in a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll with 16 percent support among “leaned” Republicans, with Romney leading at 25 percent. In a CBS poll Cain even managed to pull even with Romney for the overall lead.
Here in the Granite State, Cain is also making some noise. Despite a campaign strategy that has seen him not pay as much attention to the early states as his rivals, Cain is still a solid second in a just-released Harvard/St. Anselm poll focused on New Hampshire, coming in at 20 percent with Romney out front with 38 percent.
But perhaps the poll with the most revealing numbers for the top trio of candidates is a new Washington Post/Bloomberg poll released in the buildup to tonight’s debate. When voters who lean Republican were asked which candidate they thought would do the most to improve the country’s economic situation, 22 percent said Romney, 20 percent said Cain, and 12 percent said Perry.
Tonight the three candidates – as well as the rest of the GOP field – will get another chance to change voters’ minds. With Romney in front, Perry slumping, and Cain surging, there is plenty at stake for everyone. But of course, no one has more at stake than the millions of jobless Americans scattered across the country.