Rob Horowitz: Chafee’s Political Fortunes Tied to Economy
Tuesday, February 07, 2012
In his State of the State address delivered last week, Gov. Lincoln Chafee identified Rhode Island's economy as his his top priority. Given that Rhode Island’s unemployment rate of 10.8% is more than two points higher than the national average -- much worse than its New England neighbors -- it is certainly the right priority.
There can be no doubt that Chafee’s electoral fortunes are tied to the hope that Rhode Island’s economy will improve.
Some governors have demonstrated the ability to transcend these difficult economic times through force of personality and large accomplishments for which they receive the lion’s share of the credit. Governors Chris Christie (R-NJ) and Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) come to mind. These two dominant political figures garner high approval ratings in their home states, despite persistent high unemployment .
But Chafee is in the same boat as most other governors around the nation. His reelection prospects will depend in large measure on whether voters sense there has been significant economic improvement. With an approval rating of only 27% in the most recent Brown University Poll, Chafee has a big hill to climb, even in a three way race.
Chafee’s economic ideas have the potential to yield substantial results in the long-term. His emphasis on providing fiscal responsibility; improving education; re-building infrastructure; and capitalizing on Rhode Island’s higher education and healthcare assets through the Providence Knowledge District are all important.
But Rhode Island's economy has difficult structural problems and these initiatives are unlikely to bring much job growth in the short-term. In all likelihood, Chafee must rely on what now appears to be an improving national economy to fuel job creation in Rhode Island. The old cliché, a rising tide lifts all boats, is what is most applicable.
Chafee’s re-election prospects depend as much on the national recovery as anything he will do over the next couple of years. If national economic improvement continues at pace, Chafee will end up in a much stronger position for re-election than most observers would predict today.
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