Democratic front-runners should focus on economy

Financial giant Citigroup announced a $10 billion quarterly loss Tuesday, the worst in the company’s history. The same day, Democratic rivals Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama each released statements effectively ending the days-long bitter feud between the candidates that had dominated election coverage.

Citigroup’s announcement is only the most recent indication of the U.S. economy’s slide toward recession, but Democratic frontrunners are largely ignoring the issue and instead choosing to focus on each other. Clinton and Obama spent more than three days earlier this week sparring over comments each made about the other’s views on race, civil rights and diversity.

Comments from Clinton supporters about Obama’s ignorance of the Clintons’ civil rights work began a back-and-forth battle between the candidates that ended Tuesday with each admitting that when it comes to civil rights, Democrats are on the same side.

What should have been the biggest issue of the week – and maybe the election – was evident on Wall Street. In addition to Citigroup’s poor performance, Bank of America’s proposed buyout of beleaguered Countrywide sent both companies’ stocks downward, and unemployment at post-Katrina levels isn’t helping dissuade recession fears.

Addressing the distressed economic environment is imperative for Democrats. Just ask the Republicans.

Republican candidates Mitt Romney, Sen. John McCain, and Mike Huckabee each adjusted their respective messages in the days leading up to the Michigan primary to address the country’s economic woes, and for good reason. According to CNN, 55 percent of Republican voters in the Michigan primary cited the economy as their main concern, and nearly 70 percent said the economy isn’t in good shape – powerful numbers under a Republican president and indicative that the economy is a concern for all voters, including the Democrats.

Clinton and Obama should avoid campaign distractions and instead focus on the issues on the minds of American voters. Specifically, they should give voters a reason to believe the economy will improve under Democratic leadership – no small task in today’s environment.

Fresh off respective wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, Obama and Clinton allowed campaign mudslinging to overshadow the economic issue. If interparty sparring continues to deter from the real election issues, Democrats may find themselves on the losing side of an all-important contest – November’s battle for the White House.