Which candidates get a boost from economic troubles?

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Jonathan Cohn (via the guy with the office next to mine, who for some reason hasn’t been around much lately) has a piece in The New Republic in which he explains that Mitt Romney’s economic message seems to be resonating with Michigan voters more than John McCain’s (or Mike Huckabee’s, for that matter). After New Hampshire, we all need to put the emphasis on seems (and Cohn does), but it’s an interesting point:

[Romney] emphasizes his economic ideas, and while they may not add up to more than the usual supply side shibboleths–making tax cuts permanent, eliminating the capital gains tax, reforming lawsuits–he does at least offer the Bain Capital/Winter Olympics/passing-health-care-in-Massachusetts resume that’s relevant to the discussion.

The contrast with the image McCain has promoted lately couldn’t be more striking. McCain has been on the air in Detroit with his own television spots for the last two weeks–seemingly as much as Romney, which is no small feat given the latter’s personal fortune and apparent willingness to spend it. But the TV ad that I’ve seen the most simply features McCain speaking directly to the camera about his character and record. He boasts about taking on special interests, questioning Rumsfeld’s strategy in Iraq, and fighting pork barrel spending. “I’ve made a lot of people in Washington angry,” he says. He’s right about that, for sure, but there’s nothing in the ad that speaks directly to the concerns of, say, the 200 workers laid off from a local parts plant a few days ago.

In Michigan, which has been mired in a recession for at least a year now, voters care a lot about the economy. And that seems to help Romney, because whatever his specific proposals Romney seems to care a lot more about and know a lot more about economic policy than McCain (or Giuliani or even FairTax Mike) does.

The question is whether gloomy economic news elsewhere will put voters in a similar frame of mind. That would be good news for Romney on the Republican side. In the Democratic primaries it should help Edwards, and probably Clinton too. I mean, Obama seems reasonably smart about economics. But that’s not what his campaign has been about.

In the general election, recession definitely hurts the Republicans. How do I know that? Because Ray Fair says so.