It's the Gas Prices, Stupid

During Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential bid, campaign strategist James Carville coined the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid.” It was meant to remind the future president to stay focused on the issue that was foremost on voters’ minds and to keep him from wandering off into the weeds of complicated side issues. Mitt Romney and other Republicans need to adopt this simplified, focused strategy in Ohio and other crucial swing states.

Just as in 1992, the economy tops the list of voter concerns. One way Republican candidates are addressing this concern is to attack President Obama’s “war on coal.” Last week the House passed the “Stop the War on Coal Act” (H.R. 5409), authored by Republican Bill Johnson, who is in a tough race against former congressman Charlie Wilson in southern Ohio. This week the Romney campaign is releasing a pair of “war on coal” ads to focus on the problem of lost mining jobs and diminishing coal power capacity.

Certainly, these are vital, pressing issues that our country cannot afford to ignore. But we are a month and a half out from the election and this series of public service announcements attempting to educate voters about the dangers of the “war on coal” is a tough sell when the "war on coal" hasn’t yet impacted the lives of the majority of Ohioans. In Ohio, like other coal mining states, mining is a regional issue, so layoffs in the coal industry don’t have an immediate, statewide ripple effect. In addition, only 18% of Ohioans heat their homes with electricity, minimizing the perception that closing coal plants will cause them a financial hardship. Yet Romney and other Republicans seem to be putting a lot of their eggs into this niche basket.

Obama has taken a different approach. Whatever you think of President Obama, it’s undeniable that he plays to win. Though he has promised strict new environmental regulations on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for oil and gas, they will not be implemented until after the election. As a result, there has been a fracking boom and natural gas prices have plummeted:

It's time to party like its 2002 if you're a consumer of natural gas, as the fossil fuel dropped below $2 for the first time in a decade. ... This is a 59 percent drop from the $4.85 price natural gas enjoyed last summer. The price of the hydrocarbon has been pushed down by a sharp increase in production in the U.S. over the past few years. This is in large part attributable to the hydraulic fracturing -- or fracking -- boom.