Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said President Barack Obama faces a close re-election contest that may be determined by swing voters in as few as five states.
“It’s five states, 500 precincts,” said Emanuel, Obama’s former White House chief of staff, in an interview today on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” program. “That’s what I believe.”
Emanuel said the election will turn on how voters in states such as Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin perceive the economic priorities of Obama and Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee.
While the Obama administration bailed out a once-ailing auto industry that has since rebounded, Romney would have “let it go bankrupt,” Emanuel said, according to a transcript of the interview.
The candidates’ differences on their approach to the auto, financial and housing industries will “be the fundamental core piece of what this election is about,” Emanuel said, without specifying which five states he was referring to.
A decisive win by either party in the November elections also may help Congress break a partisan stalemate over taxes and spending, Emanuel said.
Lawmakers face what Emanuel described as “a fiscal cliff” at the end of this year when tax cuts enacted in the George W. Bush administration are set to expire and automatic spending cuts triggered by last year’s debt ceiling agreement begin to take effect.
“If the election is decisive in its clarity of meaning,” Emanuel said, “I think you could find a solution to all these issues.”
A former Democratic congressman from Illinois, Emanuel also pushed back against claims by Romney and other Republicans that the key to improving the economy is to cut government spending.
Instead, Emanuel said, Congress should pass new spending measures for infrastructure to stimulate the economy. He said the only such measures that have passed in recent years were a 2005 highway bill and the 2009 economic stimulus package that has since run its course.
“That’s it,” he said. “That’s no way to run a modern economy.”
Emanuel also downplayed the importance of the recall election this week in Wisconsin, where Republican Governor Scott Walker beat back an effort to recall him by a margin of 53 percent to 46 percent.
While that election turned partly on Walker’s opposition to collective bargaining rights for public employees, Emanuel said voters rejected using a recall to settle a public policy dispute.
“I think people know when you’re recalled, it’s got to be something severe,” he said. “You’ve committed corruption or something of that level. And I think that’s where the judgment was. This was not the tool for disagreeing with his policies on collective bargaining or other issues.”
Still, Emanuel said labor unions must agree to long-term changes that include reining in cost-of-living adjustments on pensions.
“If your attitude is, ‘We did it this way for 30 years, we’re going to keep doing it this way for 30 years,’ that’s not feasible,” he said. “The taxpayers can’t support that anymore.”
Walker, speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation” today, said his state was leaning to Obama six months ago and is now “up in the air.”
Walker said he hopes Romney copies the late Republican President Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign by making the election more than a referendum on the failures of the Democratic incumbent.
“The R next to the name cannot be just about being Republican,” Walker said. “It’s got to be about being a reformer.”