THE RACE: Parties are looking back to see ahead

August 6, 2012 - 11:40 AM
Romney 2012

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney looks at a shopping list as he arrives at Bradley's Hardware in Wolfeboro, N.H., Monday, Aug. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

With President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney running neck and neck for weeks, both parties are looking back for guidance to the way ahead.

They see different models for winning.

At first, Democrats eyed 1984 for inspiration. First-term President Ronald Reagan suffered falling approval ratings and the aftermath of deep recession. Federal deficits were soaring, and Democrat Walter Mondale made them a top issue. Still, Reagan won by a landslide.

But he had a surging economy at his back. Deficits had improved. Inflation, peaking at 10.8 percent in November-December 1982, was down to 7.5 percent by August 1984, eventually falling to 7.2 percent in November.

Obama can't count on any such lift.

Unemployment was a brutal 8.3 percent in July and seems likely to stay in that vicinity for the next few months. No post-World War II president has been re-elected with unemployment over 8 percent.

Democrats now are eyeing 2004. President George W. Bush was burdened by two wars and a mostly jobless recovery. His approval ratings in the summer hovered around 50 percent. Yet Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry had his own problems: his wealth, flip-flops on issues and difficulty in connecting with average Americans. Incumbent Bush won narrowly.

Republicans fondly recall 1980, when GOP nominee Reagan beat Democratic President Jimmy Carter. Weighing down the incumbent were a weak economy, energy shortages and a hostage crisis in Iran.

Some Republicans, concerned that Romney has failed to pull ahead despite the listless economy, also look to 1988, when Vice President George H.W. Bush overtook Michael Dukakis. Bush was helped by a strong convention speech, good debate performances and a fierce advertising campaign.

Romney spent Monday at his New Hampshire vacation home. Obama planned to raise funds in Connecticut after White House meetings.

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