President Barack Obama
The President's ability to handle the economy was considered a huge plus by voters in the 2008 election. Since that time, after the recession technically passed and a period of slow growth ensued, he's lost serious ground on the issue. One of the major problems seems to be one of perception: TPM highlighted a poll last week showing that 8 in 10 Americans still believe the country is in a recession, which by extension means that many voters believe that in the time since Obama was elected, the economic situation hasn't changed. In CNN and Quinnipiac national polls last week, the President registered just 34 and 32 percent approval, respectively, on his handling of the economy.
The good news? The President has a big microphone and the ability to push for a jobs bill in Congress. Of course, getting Congress to move on his plan may be a longshot, but perhaps politically it could work: the White House has already been pushing the message that a manufactured crisis from those conservative House members has already harmed the country once, which could soften them up to be the perfect foil to Obama's moderate approach should Tea Party backed members eschew any jobs plan the President proposes.
The President previewed some of his ideas in a speech on Monday, which included extending the middle class tax cuts that were part of the stimulus package and a call for infrastructure investment. Those ideas have had a lukewarm reception from Republican members so far.
Former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney
Romney has his own speech on Tuesday which he previewed last week, and it will highlight many of the same policies that have already been pushed by Congress: Romney would "make business taxes competitive with other nations," eliminate regulations that are apparently standing the way of creating jobs, and of course, cut federal spending. The details matter, and after his speech there will be more information to pour over, but as of now, the public's support for the Romney ideas are a mixed bag. As TPM reported in August, there is an appetite for spending cuts to domestic programs, but almost none for cuts to entitlement programs. And when it comes to taxes, Americans are currently much more likely to support an increase on the wealthy and corporations, not a lowering like Romney suggests on businesses taxes.
Quinnipiac polled a matchup of Obama v. Romney on who would better handle the economy, and Romney bested the President with 46 percent to 42, barely outside the poll's slim margin of error (1.9 percent). So Romney has a opening on the economy, but if his actual solutions drag him away from voters, then he could lose it.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry
One of the more interesting facets of the Perry candidacy so far has been how far ahead he's been able to get ahead in both national and first primary state polling despite voters not yet having a clear picture of his views. Certainly he has been beating the drum of job creation, often mentioning his claim that 40 percent of the jobs created in the US since 2009 were in Texas. But as TPM has pointed out, many of those were government jobs, so how is that going to translate to his proposals for federal policy? With no jobs plans or speeches yet coming, Perry's ability to make gains on the economic ground is still a mystery.
Quinnipiac ran the same matchup against the President for Perry, and Obama edged him out slightly, 43 percent to 41, within the margin of error. So even Perry, despite the ambiguity of his ideas on the economy, still has an opening as well.
The real question is how long Perry can go allowing Romney to soak up the spotlight on the jobs issue, starting this week. If the narrative becomes the President and Romney lobbing differing economic plans at each other, it's possible that Perry could lose some of the momentum in the GOP race, and Romney's numbers could perk up again.