Different messages: GOP candidates focus on economy, while Trump campaigns on immigration


Friday's employment report from the Labor Department was as impressive as any president could hope for just days before voters head to the polls.

But adding a quarter-million jobs to the economy in October and keeping the unemployment rate at a 48-year low of 3.7 percent is unlikely to move the needle much on Election Day.

Pollsters say that while the economy is an important predictor of election outcomes, it's far from the only one. The Clinton-era adage that elections are about "the economy, stupid," is too narrow in this day and age, they say.

Other data points, such as a president’s approval rating and whether people think the country is on the right track, now play a similarly influential role. And those indicators aren’t pointing in the same direction for President Trump.

Consumer confidence is near an 18-year high, while Trump’s approval numbers are 12 percentage points underwater, according to polling figures compiled by RealClearPolitics.

And the economy’s secondary role in the midterm campaign has caused a rift in the GOP.

While many Republican candidates want to keep their focus on the robust economy, Trump has focused much of his rhetoric on immigration, which he believes is a stronger motivator when it comes to voter turnout.

When Trump does mention the economy, it’s usually to warn that it would tank if Democrats take control of either chamber of Congress on Nov. 6.

“If you want your Stocks to go down, I strongly suggest voting Democrat,” Trump tweeted this past week. “They like the Venezuela financial model, High Taxes & Open Borders!”

On Friday, he acknowledged the monthly jobs report by tweeting: “Wow! The U.S. added 250,000 Jobs in October - and this was despite the hurricanes. Unemployment at 3.7%. Wages UP! These are incredible numbers. Keep it going, Vote Republican!”

But his central election message has revolved around immigration, the foundation of his successful campaign in 2016. Most recently, he has raised alarms over a migrant caravan largely comprised of refugees headed toward the U.S. border, calling them invaders and warning of criminal elements in the group.

“Illegal immigration affects the lives of all Americans. Illegal Immigration hurts American workers, burdens American taxpayers, undermines public safety, and places enormous strain on local schools, hospitals and communities,” Trump tweeted on Thursday.

That emphasis on immigration is at odds with efforts to protect vulnerable House Republicans in moderate suburbs where many voters are averse to Trump’s culture wars. GOP lawmakers are instead betting the House on the strong economy and eagerly touting the economic figures.

Trump even joked about his messaging divergence from the GOP at a Friday rally in West Virginia.

"They all say 'speak about the economy, speak about the economy,’" Trump said. "Sometimes it's not as exciting to talk about the economy."

Almost half of pro-Republican ads (47 percent) have focused on economic issues such as taxes and jobs, while just 17 percent have centered on immigration, according to the Wesleyan Media Project.

A Bloomberg News analysis found that more than 570,000 TV ads for GOP candidates have focused on the 2017 tax-cut bill, making it the top ad issue for Republicans this year. Democrats, meanwhile, have seized on the GOP’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare, and strip the 2010 law’s protections for patients with pre-existing conditions.

That mix of issues, some pollsters say, is the way it should be.

“Basically, voters are weighing immigration, healthcare, Trump and the good economy as the four reasons driving almost all votes,” pollster Mark Penn said on Friday. “With today’s numbers, Trump would be making a mistake to talk about anything else for four days.”

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll from mid-October found that while 55 percent of adults said immigration was a very important issue for the midterm election, that topic lagged behind gun policy (60 percent) and the economy (64 percent). The top issue they cited was health care, at 71 percent.

Democrats have had their own take on the economic situation, with many pointing to largely stagnant wages, rising inequality and the overall unpopularity of the GOP tax cut -- all issues they link back to healthcare.

“October’s jobs report has some positive news, but hard-working families across America find themselves on shakier ground than ever,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “Big corporations and the wealthiest 1 percent are raking in their deficit-exploding GOP tax scam windfalls, while Republican leaders renew their call to slash Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security for our seniors.”

In addition to highlighting related economic issues, some prominent Democrats have focused on the economy more than Trump has. And they’re looking to use the positive numbers to boost party candidates.

"The Republicans are all: 'Look, the economy's so good.' Where do you think that started? When did that start?" former President Obama said Friday at a campaign rally for gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum (D) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D), who’s up for reelection.

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