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How the GOP Keeps Distracting Voters from Obama’s Biggest Weakness

Aaron Task
Daily Ticker

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The latest WSJ/NBC poll shows President Obama leading Mitt Romney 48 percent to 44 percent and is outpacing his rival on issues such as likability.

But President Obama is clearly vulnerable on a number of levels as 54 percent of those polled disapprove of his handling of the economy and 61 percent believe the country is heading in the wrong direction.

These findings are generally consistent with other national polls and show the opportunity Mitt Romney has to defeat the President.

But Romney and the Republicans are hurting themselves by focusing on issues other than Obama's primary area of weakness, says Greg Valliere, chief political strategist at The Potomac Research Group in Washington, D.C.

"You'd think the GOP would hammer away, 24-7 on jobs and the economy," Valliere says. "That's the great albatross for Obama, yet the Republicans keep getting sidetracked."

Romney's choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate clearly elevated the importance of economic issues in the campaign, but turned the discussion to the federal budget and Medicare rather than jobs, Valliere declares.

[Related: Paul Ryan Is No Ayn Rand Disciple: He's a Fiscal Moderate, Yaron Brook Says]

Despite the Romney campaign's attempts to turn perceived weakness on Medicare into a strength — by highlighting their attempts to address the program's long-term solvency vs. Obama's lack of a plan — "I continue to believe that's not a winner for the GOP, especially in Florida," Valliere says.

In addition, Valliere says the Romney campaign is hurting itself by focusing on taxes, which he calls "a bigger landmine than Medicare."

In addition to Romney's "lack of transparency" on his personal taxes, Valliere notes both Romney and Ryan would lower taxes on the wealthiest Americans and corporations. This could be a tough sell in an era of rising income inequality and populist backlash against the rich.

[Related: America Has Now Become An Aristocracy Of Elites: Chris Hayes]

Furthermore, Valliere notes Romney hasn't specified what deductions he would eliminate to pay for lower marginal rates.

"Would it be the home mortgage deduction, the child tax credit, state and local tax exemption, even interest exemption on muni bonds?" he wonders. "Nobody knows. Neither Romney nor Ryan have said what's in their tax proposals."

Finally, there's the issue of abortion, which dominated the national conversation this week after Missouri Senate candidate and current GOP Representative Todd Akin's comments about "legitimate rape."

Akin has apologized for his remarks but refused to heed calls for him to drop out of the race from several prominent Republicans, including Romney and Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The Akin scandal is a three-pronged problem for the GOP, Valliere says:

First, it's going to be really tough for them to win a "winnable seat" in Missouri, which could be key to determining which party controls the Senate in the next term.

Second, it means more talk about abortion and less focus on President Obama's mishandling of the economy and jobs.

Third, and what Valliere says "really worries Republicans," is that Paul Ryan and Akins are "on the same page" on the broader issue of abortion. "They're both stridently anti-abortion and this to me could further widen the gender gap, further hurt the Republicans among women," he says.

To be clear, Valliere has plenty of critical things to say about Obama and is not a strident critic of Romney and Ryan. His point is that the GOP is failing to exploit the President's weaknesses because "they keep getting sidetracked away from the one issue that should be their strong suit."

Aaron Task is the host of The Daily Ticker and Editor-in-Chief of Yahoo! Finance. You can follow him on Twitter at @aarontask or email him at altask@yahoo.com

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