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Matthews on 2012: All eyes on the economy

Let me finish tonight with one number - 8.It's the number that President Obama's chief economic advisor posted to the world.  It's the jobless rate she said we

Let me finish tonight with one number - 8.

It's the number that President Obama's chief economic advisor posted to the world.  It's the jobless rate she said we would reach as a result of his economic program.

So this is the nature of American politics and economics between now and the end of next summer. If we drop from 9.4 percent down to below 8 percent, President Obama can consider himself in good shape for re-election. 

8 percent.  Post this figure as the national unemployment rate on the verge of the next election and President Obama will be in good shape.  Don't do it and there is a good prospect that the Republican candidate will prevail.

I know there has been a lot of talk lately about the president himself, his enhanced job approval, the way in which he has been connecting.   All that said, we need to keep our eye on the ball. Elections are driven by economics and the economics are still bad, especially bad in the part of this country that will decide the election.

Here's the story.  The Republican candidate - weak as he or she might be - will start the election with the Deep South and that great expanse of the Plains and much of the Mountain West.  Obama will get the coasts.  The turf to be fought over will be the Big Ten states: Ohio, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and, yes, Pennsylvania.   

If these states have not come back economically by the end of next summer, I can see Obama losing even if most people like him. It's about conditions.  Will the people in these Big Ten states feel like saying "keep it up; you're doing a good job, can't complain." If not, forget everything else - the speeches, the man, the national mood generally. 

What will matter next election morning and all day into the evening is whether people want to give the thumbs up on the economy. Fair or not, this will be the scorecard and this explains everything the President has done since he saw what was coming this past November: the deal on tax cuts, the appointment of Bill Daley as White House chief of staff, the decision to address the US Chamber of Commerce, the naming of GE chief executive officer Jeff Immelt now to head up his push for private sector jobs.  

The government can't create jobs.  The Republicans in the House are not going to approve a second big stimulus.  Taxes are about where they're going to be. The one grand prospect is for business to get the higher confidence to begin expanding its workforce in preparation for higher sales.  

The president needs to get the jobless number down below 8 percent.  If he doesn't, he could suffer what happened to Winston Churchill met in 1945.  Popular, historic, all good things but people worried about the economy and picked the other party to run the country.  It can happen here in 2012.