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Obama aide's comment on unemployment a gift to Republicans

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It’s still the economy, stupid. And the Obama White House knows that, a year and a half away from the next election. Friday morning, after the release of the disappointing June jobs report, President Obama himself made clear that “we still have a long way to go” in the economic recovery, and he listed various measures Congress could take that, in his view, would help.

But one line of argument from other White House officials – that voters don’t view the economy through the “prism” of statistics like gross domestic product and the unemployment rate – has left a big, wide opening for Republicans to drive through.

David Plouffe, Mr. Obama’s top political adviser, got things started Thursday at a breakfast sponsored by Bloomberg News.

“The average American does not view the economy through the prism of GDP or unemployment rates or even monthly jobs numbers,” Mr. Plouffe said. “People won’t vote based on the unemployment rate; they’re going to vote based on: ‘How do I feel about my own situation? Do I believe the president makes decisions based on me and my family?’ ”

Republicans have wasted little time in jumping on Plouffe. Mitt Romney, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, put the adviser at the center of his reaction to the new unemployment rate.

“Today’s abysmal jobs report confirms what we all know – that President Obama has failed to get this economy moving again,” the former Massachusetts governor said in a statement. “Just this week, President Obama’s closest White House adviser said that ‘unemployment rates or even monthly jobs numbers’ do not matter to the average American.

“If David Plouffe were working for me,” Mr. Romney continued, “I would fire him and then he could experience firsthand the pain of unemployment. His comments are an insult to the more than 20 million people who are out of work, underemployed, or who have simply stopped looking for jobs. With their cavalier attitude about the economy, the White House has turned the audacity of hope into the audacity of indifference.”

At a Monitor breakfast Friday, former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie also riffed on Plouffe’s statement, paraphrasing it thus: “It’s not the economy stupid, and don’t pay any attention to the jobs number and the unemployment in your neighborhood and your house, because we’ll tell you what’s important to you, and it’s not really you losing your job or your neighbor losing [his] job or your cousin losing his job or her job.”

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Speaking at his midday briefing Friday, White House press secretary Jay Carney chalked up Romney’s comment to politics. But he didn’t exactly back away from Plouffe’s assertion, either.

“Most people do not sit around their kitchen table and analyze GDP and unemployment numbers,” Mr. Carney said. “They talk about how they feel their own economic situation is.”

Technically, Carney may have a point. Most people aren’t poring over the economic data in The Wall Street Journal. They’re going with their gut, and what they see around them.

But one Democratic strategist argues caution when discussing unemployment. “You don’t want any perception that you don’t think it’s important, or you’re in trouble,” says Peter Fenn, a Democratic communications consultant. “Even if you’re making a good point, you have to be very careful as to how you word it.”

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