WASHINGTON - The American Boating Congress wrapped up Wednesday following a morning session of speakers covering a range of topics - from the economy to the election - and an afternoon spent visiting lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
With 12 co-hosts, this year’s ABC was “truly an all industry event,” said Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which organized ABC. This year, 165 people attended ABC, and they conducted 187 Hill visits.
Anything that adversely affects one segment of the marine industry ultimately impacts all segments, he said, explaining the importance of working collectively. By coming together to advocate for the industry, attendees were doing their part to grow boating, Dammrich said.
ABC attendees were updated by NMMA staff on such issues as E15, the proposed General Management Plan of Biscayne National Park, tax proposals and the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund — topics they could then discuss during visits with lawmakers.
Speakers included Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md.; Greg Ip, U.S. economics editor for The Economist; Jon Jarvis, National Park Service director; Francisco Sanchez, undersecretary of commerce and international trade; Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.; and Neil Newhouse, from Public Opinion Strategies.
Ip, who also spoke at last year’s ABC, noted that not much has changed economically since he last met with the group. The economy continues to recover, he said, though slowly.
“This ain’t no ‘V’ [recovery],” he said, noting that the economy has not risen sharply after dropping sharply. He likened it more to an L- or a U-shaped recovery. He said it would likely be 2015 before Americans really started to feel as if the recession is over.
Issues that could stall the economy include the situation with Iran, the debt crisis in Europe and “taxaggedon” — a number of tax cuts that expire this year as new ones come into effect. However, Ip said, “I do not see the fundamental drivers of the return to recession.”
The housing market is so depressed, it’s unlikely to get weaker, he said. Banks are lending again, though not as robustly as before the recession, and while gas prices are up, the $4-a-gallon threshold is not the shock it once was to consumers, he said.
However, it’s unknown how the upcoming election will impact the economy.
Newhouse, a pollster who works on the campaign of presumptive GOP candidate Mitt Romney, told attendees that the election is too close to call at this point, with Romney and President Obama either tied or within a few percentage points of each other in most polls.
Some of the key factors that will affect the election:
• If the “mood” of the country continues to improve
• Obama’s job approval rating
• How women, Latinos and youth will vote
• The percentage of non-White voters who come out on Election Day
• The job approval rating of Congress
• The presidential debates and how the candidates do in the 12 states that could go to either candidate, including Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina
Another contributing factor is general enthusiasm about the election. In 2008, the Obama campaign had energy and momentum, but it’s unclear if that energy is still there, Newhouse said. Seventy-four percent of GOP voters have an interest in the election, versus 64 percent of Democrats, he noted.
Romney, he said, leads on issues such as gas prices, the economy, immigration and job creation; Obama leads on health care and women’s issues.
One area where Romney likely can’t compete with Obama is compassion and likeability, Newhouse said.
He predicts voters will see an “incredible campaign.”
“This is going to be a great ride,” he said. “Stay informed.”
— Beth Rosenberg
Look for more on the 2012 American Boating Congress in the June issue of Soundings Trade Only.