Monday, July 24, 2006

Will Pocketbook Concerns Move Votes?
Will Pocketbook Concerns Move Votes?

If the November elections become a referendum on the economy, Republicans have reason to worry.

For months, the White House and Democrats have battled to shape perceptions of the economy. Economic statistics suggest things generally continue to get better, but many voters are complaining every time they pump gasoline into their SUVs.

The spin war between the parties will forge on. But the underlying reality at this point is that Democrats and independents are more likely than Republicans to say the economy is the single most important issue determining their vote in November.

A recent Post poll showed that 27 percent of independents and 25 percent of Democrats cited the economy as their top voting issue, compared with 18 percent of Republicans. Other research shows that the more people make the economy No. 1, the more likely they are to vote Democratic.

Pocketbook issues could be felt most acutely in Midwestern states, where job growth has lagged behind that in the rest of the nation. That could affect the open contest in Wisconsin's 8th District, in the northeast part of the state. Rep. Mark Green (R) vacated the seat to run for governor, and state Assembly Speaker John Gard is the likely Republican nominee. Three Democrats are vying in a primary.

President Bush won 55 percent of the vote in that district in 2004. As it happens, that is precisely the percentage of residents statewide who said in a recent poll that the economy is the most important problem facing Wisconsin.

Two other open House races in the Midwest also could be sensitive to economic worries. One is an open seat in Ohio's 6th District; incumbent Ted Strickland (D) is running for governor. The race pits state Sen. Charlie Wilson (D) against Chuck Blasdel (R), speaker pro tempore of the state House.

In Minnesota's 6th District, where the economy is faring better and could benefit a Republican, children's advocate Patty Wetterling (D) and state Sen. Michele Bachmann (R) are vying for the seat Mark Kennedy gave up to become the GOP gubernatorial candidate.

Democrats may not escape the economic woes in the Midwest. Michigan has been hit particularly hard by job losses in recent years, complicating Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow's reelection campaign.

-- Chris Cillizza