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An Improving Economy Means Republicans Need a ‘Plan B’ To Beat Obama

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Mitt Romney scored a big victory in Illinois Tuesday night, winning 47 percent of GOP primary voters support compared to Rick Santorum's 35 percent. Illinois was viewed as a "must win" for Romney after Santorum, his closest competitor for the GOP presidential nomination, won a string of races over the past few weeks.

Josh Marshall, editor and publisher of Talking Points Memo, a political news Web site, says Romney has managed to pull off a win in every state that was seen as a 'make or break' for his campaign.

"I think it's clear to most people who watch politics closely that Romney is going to win and he's going to come into Tampa and be the nominee," Marshall said in an interview with The Daily Ticker. "The question is how damaged or how strong is he when he gets there."

Romney, the former head of private equity firm Bain Capital, has billed himself as the best candidate to fix the fragile U.S. economy. But Romney, and his GOP rivals, may have to rethink their strategy as the economy continues to recover.

"The Republicans started this race figuring the economy was going to be stuck at like nine percent unemployment," Marshall says. "The economy is improving slowly but it is improving. Republicans need a plan B."

There are many signs of an economic turnaround. The U.S. unemployment rate is 8.3 percent, a number that has fallen over the past six months but one that remains uncomfortably high for all elected officials. Recent government housing reports suggest that the market may be bottoming and the Federal Reserve gave a tepid, although optimistic, outlook for the domestic economy at its latest FOMC meeting.

Positive economic data has encouraged investors to buy riskier assets again, and the S&P 500 Index (GSPC) is within 10 percent of its October 2007 all-time high.

The biggest liability for Obama's reelection is higher gasoline prices, Marshall says.

According to the AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report, gasoline prices have increased 30 cents in one month. In the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll, 54 percent of poll respondents said they believe the president "can do a lot to control gas prices, as opposed to 36 percent who believe they are beyond a president's control."

If gasoline prices had not skyrocketed, Obama would have a much wider lead over his GOP presidential competitors, Marshall added.

Republicans have used the spike in pump prices to attack Obama's energy policies. Obama's decision to reject the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline in January has been a popular target in the GOP nominating contest. According to news reports, Obama plans to expedite the permit process for the Southern half of the Keystone pipeline when he arrives in Oklahoma Thursday.