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:
The House and Senate return to work after summer recess.
Congress's biggest piece of business before the election is approving a $1.047 trillion, six-month stopgap measure that would keep the government operating beyond the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1.
Romney and Obama campaigns begin to roll out fall ads
The campaigns are likely to raise and spend an unprecedented $300 million. The Obama campaign is worried that Romney is raising more, although Obama and his affiliated groups raised $552.5 million through June, compared to Romney's $394.9 million.
Federal Reserve concludes the sixth meeting of the year
If the fed implements another massive dose of monetary stimulus, QE3, keeping interest rates low, the stock market could swing upward. Of, if the Fed decides to hold off, the market could just as easily plunge.
Early voting begins in Indiana and Kentucky
Many other states scheduled to allow voters to cast their ballots long before Election Day.
Fiscal Year 2012 officially ends
The administration and Congressional Budget Office are certain to report the governmentâ€™s fourth consecutive budget deficit of well over $1 trillion.
The first presidential debate
Held at the University of Denver, the focus will be on domestic policy, moderated by Jim Lehrer of the News Hour on PBS.
Bureau of Labor Statistics issues final unemployment stats
If the unemployment rate dips even a little more before the election, Obama can argue that his economic policies are beginning to bear fruit. A last minute surge in the unemployment rate could sink his campaign.
Deadline for Congress to deal with the fiscal cliff
The last day Congress can do anything before the election to extend tax cuts and blunt spending cuts to avert a fiscal cliff. Lawmakers will head home to campaign through the election.
European authorities release report on Greece's fiscal future
Early drafts released last week indicate that Greece will be asked to introduce a six-day work week. American officials and bankers have insisted the U.S. is insulated from Greece possibly exiting the eurozone, but a negative report could test that theory.
Candidates Joe Biden and Paul Ryan will square off at Centre College in Danville, Ky., answering questions from ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz.
Second presidential debate
Obama and Romney will answer questions from undecided voters in a town hall style meeting at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY. CNNâ€™s Candy Crowley will moderate.
Defense contractor layoff warnings
Defense contractors decide whether to send out letters to millions of employees and subcontractors warning of possible layoffs in the event of deep defense cuts. A mass mailing of potential layoff notices could touch off panic and a backlash against government leaders.
Romney releases his complete 2011 tax return
This follows an earlier release of his 2010 tax returns and an estimate of his 2011 return. The announcement is certain to renew Democratic criticism of the wealthy former head of Bain Capital for refusing to divulge more extensive information about his holdings and investments, including off shore bank accounts.
The third and final presidential debate
The focus will be on foreign policy with Bob Schieffer, host of CBSâ€™ â€œFace the Nation,â€ moderating the discussion at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.
Final campaign poll results released