Only six mentions of jobs in over 16,000 words.
That’s what I counted from the Republican Party presidential debate on Wednesday in Mesa, Arizona.
It was the 20th — and potentially final — debate of this presidential primary season for the Republican Party. Extrapolating from the evening, they’ve delivered roughly 300,000 words — give or take a couple thousand — from debate stages.
By this point they’ve got their messages honed, they’ve poll-tested their slogans, they know where they and their opponents are strong or vulnerable. Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul should be going in for the political kill.
And yet, in what may be the final opportunity these four candidates may get to make their case for the GOP nomination, they rarely invoked the four-letter word that is the most dangerous for the sitting president, Barack Obama.
A Gallup Poll conducted in early February found 71% of U.S. adults — almost three-fourths — said the economy or unemployment and jobs are the most important problems facing the nation. The over-time trend for this poll shows that the percent of Americans naming such matters as the nation’s most important problem has been 60% or higher almost without exception since late 2008.
The nation’s unemployment rate is 8.3%, which is exactly what it was in February 2009 in the president’s first month in office. The underemployment rate, which includes unemployed and adds in those who want full-time jobs but have settled for part-time work as well as people who would like a job but are not actively looking, is even worse, at almost 19%. The public’s mood on the economy is looking up, but is nowhere near sunny.
That the final four candidates trying to unseat a vulnerable president mentioned jobs only six times in two hours is political malpractice.
As a point of comparison, in the debate’s two hours they mentioned birth control or contraceptives 14 times. Thirteen times they talked of “earmarks.” Fifteen times the candidates discussed “illegal immigration.” They discussed the national debt 12 times. They invoked Iran 27 times. A total of 13 times they discussed religion. Taxes: 22 times.
Of these issues, only a few even registered on the most important problem list of Gallup in early February. Eight percent named the debt as the top problem. Two percent said taxes. Less than one percent said national war or conflict in the Middle East. Four percent said immigration or “illegal aliens.”
Focusing on these issues and not jobs or the economy is how you lose an election.
Chuck Todd, the White House correspondent for NBC News, offered this reaction on twitter to the GOP debate:
One thing Romney, Santorum and Newt have in common; they are all better running campaigns when they are NOT in the lead.
— Chuck Todd (@chucktodd) February 23, 2012
Unless they shift their focus, that is the position any of them will occupy through election day.