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Democratic Governors See Economy Enabling Obama’s Re-Election

Democratic U.S. governors said President Barack Obama’s re-election chances are being lifted by an improving economy and a prolonged Republican nominating contest.

Gathered in Washington for the National Governors Association winter meeting, Republicans and Democrats said yesterday they saw signs of improvement in states mending from the 18-month recession that ended almost three years ago. Some Republicans said the recovery is negligible, or faulted Obama for restraining growth. Democrats voiced confidence in the president’s prospects of winning another term in November.

“I just don’t see how you win an election by convincing the American people that things are terrible and we don’t have a future,” Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, said in an interview. “I keep saying to these guys, ‘Cheer up: Revenues are coming back. Jobs are returning. We’re making slow and steady progress.’”

Employers added workers in January at the fastest pace since April, pushing the unemployment rate to 8.3 percent, the lowest since February 2009. Consumer confidence has also risen to the highest level since April 2008 as more Americans had a favorable view of their finances, according to the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index, while stock prices rallied.

The U.S. has gained more than 3 million jobs since February 2010. Still, there are still 5.6 million fewer than at the beginning of 2008, according to the Labor Department.

That’s No Recovery

“There is no turnaround to speak of,” said Republican Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana, adding that Obama stands little chance of carrying his state. He said it’s the “weakest recovery ever from a serious recession.”

Iowa’s unemployment rate was 5.6 percent in December, compared with 8.5 percent for the country. Governor Terry Branstad, a Republican elected in 2010, said his state’s economy has nothing to do with Obama.

“We’re going to sink him,” he said in an interview. “Agriculture is strong, but that’s certainly got nothing to do with his policies.”

Republicans are girding for a long nomination battle between former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, a former private-equity executive who stresses financial acumen, and Rick Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania. Santorum focuses on issues such as his opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage.

Playing His Game

The two, along with former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Representative Ron Paul, are facing off in primary elections tomorrow in Michigan and Arizona, and a week later on so-called Super Tuesday, when 11 states will hold nominating contests.

Democratic governors at the Washington meeting said Republican debate over social issues may play into the president’s hands by repelling independents and shifting attention away from the economy, voters’ dominant concern.

“Their candidates are not speaking to the issues that matter to the broad majority of Americans, and those are the issues that affect jobs, that affect job creation, that can expand opportunity,” said Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, the head of the Democratic Governors Association. “They’re doing somersaults over each other to appeal and to pander to a mean-spirited and extreme right wing of their party.”

Daniels, who decided against running for the presidency, said prolonged social debate could hinder Republicans and the party will shift its attention to the economy.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

“The circumstances in this country -- today and the rest of this year -- are going to drive this discussion, whether the president likes it or not,” he said.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, predicted that a debate over mending the economy will dominate the race once his party’s nomination is decided.

“The nominee is going to be talking about the economy,” Corbett told reporters. “It will be the economy, the economy, the economy. It’ll be jobs, jobs and jobs.”

The revival of manufacturers, including U.S. automakers rescued by federal bailouts, is aiding the economies in Midwestern states that play a crucial role in elections. Michigan’s fared second-best in the year through September in the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States, an index that gauges the trajectory of economies, while Ohio ranked 10th.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, said polls suggest that Obama is the favored candidate in his state. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, also a Republican, said economic improvement may assist the president, though the election will hinge on who articulates a better plan for the years ahead.

“It’s one thing to have growth,” Walker said. “It’s another thing to say here’s where we’re at and here’s how much better it could be in the future. That’s got to be the nominee’s ultimate objective: To make the case that ultimately four years from now you’re going to be much better as opposed to just marginally better than you might be today.”

To contact the reporters on this story: William Selway in Washington at wselway@bloomberg.net; Mark Niquette in Washington at mniquette@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net

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