By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
It won’t be hard for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to win this part of Kentucky in November’s election, despite reservations by some on the right that Romney’s positions have changed or his Mormon religion.
But the election will be decided in key swing states like North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Florida and Nevada.
“We’re good here. We’re good in Kentucky,” said Hilda Legg, longtime Republican activist who attended last week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa. “My concern is how do we get our message out to urban voters and voters in other parts of the country.”
The message Republicans want to deliver was pretty clear to those attending a local chamber of commerce lunch at the Center for Rural Development where U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers, R-Fifth District, and U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell spoke.
The message to voters they say is the same as it was in 1980 when Republican challenger Ronald Reagan defeated incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”
Both Rogers and McConnell supplied their own answer: no way — though they used a different set of measurements than supporters of President Barack Obama used.
Rogers said people are fearful about the future, caused by “fear of Obamacare, fear of higher taxes, fear of federal regulation that is strangling the coal industry.”
“In what way are we better off than we were a few years ago?” McConnell asked the crowd in this conservative, Republican bedrock.
Democrats, McConnell said, “have decided this week to argue we are better off than we were four years ago. You might be interested in some of the facts.” Unemployment is up (from 7.8 percent to 8.2 percent), he said, and so are gasoline prices, health insurance costs, college tuition costs and the federal debt, while middle-class income has declined, he said.
The question of whether voters are better off than four years ago was central to Reagan’s 1980 campaign and Republicans began resurrecting the question last week in Tampa. On Sunday talk shows, Obama surrogates were asked the question by reporters and generally ducked or mishandled it.
But as Democrats gathered Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C., for their convention, Obama spokesmen offered a different set of facts to support their contention the country is better off: the stock market has more than doubled, job losses in the private sector have stopped and private sector employment is growing, the nation avoided a depression, the auto industry was saved and Osama bin Laden is dead.
McConnell and Rogers — and most of those at the chamber lunch Tuesday — aren’t buying it, however.
“The fact is, this is the most tepid recovery — if it is a recovery — in American history after a deep recession,” McConnell said.
He went on to say charges by Democrats of Republican obstructionism is “ridiculous talk. I would have loved to obstruct that, but we didn’t have the votes to do it.”
Time magazine’s Sept. 3 issue contains an article by Michael Grunwald entitled “The Party of No” in which Grunwald quotes then U.S. Republican Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, who said McConnell urged his caucus to oppose any Obama initiative from the first days of Obama’s term.
“If Obama was for it, we had to be against it,” Grunwald quotes Voinovich as saying.
McConnell said after Tuesday’s chamber address here he hadn’t read the Time article.
“The truth of the matter is (Democrats) had a choice in the very beginning if they wanted to govern from the center or from the left,” McConnell said. “They chose the left, so they had very little, if any Republican support.”
He said Obama had a second chance to “work with us” after the 2010 mid-term elections swept Republicans into the House majority, but he didn’t.
Asked specifically about Voinovich’s comments, McConnell said: “Well, George can speak for himself but, as I recall, he supported our position on every major issue.”
Rogers said the real indicators of how well the country is doing — income for middle class, gasoline prices, unemployment and under employment — show America isn’t better off than four years ago. He told the chamber crowd this year’s election increasingly reminds him of 1980 — “and I think we’re going to win it.”