With a mere 58 days to go, the political calendar is destiny, and a handful of key dates and events could profoundly impact the outcome of a rough and tumble and remarkably close race. The fact that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney spent last week prepping for the first presidential debate with President Obama while Democrats held their national convention tells a lot about the remaining forces that could decide the Nov. 6 election.
These include four candidate debates, possible action by the Federal Reserve, government reports on unemployment and third-quarter economic growth , and what -- if anything -- Congress decides to do in advance of the general election to blunt tough spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to take effect next January that could carry the country over a fiscal cliff.
Last Friday, Obama was thrown a curve ball when the August jobs report showing a mere 96K jobs created even though the unemployment rate had dropped to 8.1 percent from 8.3 percent. The reason: 368,000 Americans dropped out of the labor force last month and another 213,000 never joined it at all.
Thomas Mann, a congressional scholar with the Brookings Institution, said last week he expects little substantive action from the sorely divided Congress before the election, but thinks that last minute actions by the Fed and the release of more government economic analysis could tip the balance of the election by altering “voter perceptions of the economy.”
What’s more, international events, such as further debt-related turmoil in the euro zone or a crisis in the Middle East could move the political needle one way or another. “It’s hard to believe that Israel is going to launch an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, but that certainly could be a wild card,” Mann said. “I would say the most important unknowables are really developments in the economy, and stories about it.”
Peter Hart, the Democratic pollster, said there are some things the candidates can control , such as their performances in the presidential and vice presidential debates and other carefully planned major campaign events, but they will have little choice but to roll with the consequences in many situations.
“Most of the big [potential developments] are international and congressional and are not in the president’s control, and they’re more likely to splatter on the president’s windshield than on the Romney windshield,” Hart told The Fiscal Times. “When you’re in office it’s up to you to be able to say, ‘Here’s what I’m going to do and here’s how we’re going to solve it.’”
While there is always the possibility of an “October surprise” in the campaign, here are more than a dozen key dates or events in the political calendar leading up to the election: