Here we are, a lit­tle under eight months before the next elec­tion, and it’s becom­ing more and more evi­dent who the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee will be. So let’s take a quick look at some of the cur­rent hot issues and the top­ics that may dom­i­nate this cam­paign sea­son. There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip, and things could change at any moment — but at this point, things don’t look like most thought they would even as recently as a year ago.

The econ­omy seems to be improv­ing faster than had been expected, with nearly four mil­lion jobs hav­ing been cre­ated since the depths of the Great Reces­sion. At this rate, with around 200,000 new jobs per month, that num­ber would be over five mil­lion by elec­tion day. The Dow Jones Indus­trial Aver­age is over 13,000, hav­ing roughly dou­bled its value since March of 2009. We’ve had close to two years of nearly unin­ter­rupted eco­nomic expan­sion. Unem­ploy­ment is drop­ping to close to eight per­cent, and could be well below that mark by Novem­ber. If Repub­li­cans thought they could run on eco­nomic issues, they may well be mistaken.

Late last year, Pres­i­dent Obama released a series of pro­pos­als aimed toward cre­at­ing jobs — the Amer­i­can Jobs Act. With the improv­ing jobs sit­u­a­tion, it isn’t clear whether this will still be an issue next fall. It would take a cer­tain amount of courage for Repub­li­cans to talk about the jobs mar­ket, when they cam­paigned on jobs in 2010, did noth­ing to cre­ate jobs after tak­ing con­trol of the House, and opposed the President’s jobs plan — and then, in many states where Repub­li­cans had con­trol of state gov­ern­ments, threw tens of thou­sands of pub­lic employ­ees out of work. This would seem to be a far bet­ter issue for Democ­rats in 2012 than for Republicans.

Man­u­fac­tur­ing con­tin­ues to grow, an expan­sion we haven’t seen in decades. In 2009, for­mer Mass­a­chu­setts Gov­er­nor Mitt Rom­ney claimed that help­ing Chrysler and Gen­eral Motors sur­vive the eco­nomic col­lapse would mean the end of the U.S. auto indus­try. But GM over­took Toy­ota last year to become the world’s biggest auto maker, and Chrysler recently posted its first prof­its since 1997. In the indus­trial Mid­west, par­tic­u­larly in the valu­able auto-​​manufacturing heart of Michi­gan, this could sway the Pres­i­den­tial vote, par­tic­u­larly if Rom­ney is the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee. Indeed, recent Michi­gan polls show Obama with a solid double-​​digit lead.

Other fac­tors may addi­tion­ally impact blue-​​collar Mid­west­ern vot­ers. A series of anti-​​union laws in states like Ari­zona, Indi­ana, Ohio and Wis­con­sin have fomented a siz­able back­lash. As a result, Wisconsin’s Repub­li­can Gov­er­nor Scott Walker is fac­ing a recall elec­tion, and Ohio’s Gov­er­nor John Kasich has become per­haps the least pop­u­lar gov­er­nor in the nation. Kasich’s union-​​busting law has already been repealed in a pub­lic ref­er­en­dum. Repub­li­cans had hopes of win­ning both Wis­con­sin and Ohio in the Pres­i­den­tial con­test. That seems less likely now. Bear in mind that a Repub­li­can can­di­date has never won the Pres­i­dency with­out win­ning Ohio.

There are a few more eco­nomic con­sid­er­a­tions. Con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans were forced to sur­ren­der the issue of the pay­roll tax hol­i­day. There are valid argu­ments about whether extend­ing the tem­po­rary pay­roll tax cut was a good idea, but Repub­li­cans had to go on record as favor­ing a middle-​​class tax increase — or, at the least, as stand­ing in the way of extend­ing the tem­po­rary reduc­tion. In the end, the exten­sion was passed very qui­etly last month, a sig­nif­i­cant event after the drama late last year when Repub­li­cans tried to tie the exten­sion to a series of unre­lated social-​​agenda poi­son pills.

None of this will pre­vent Repub­li­cans from accus­ing the Pres­i­dent of rais­ing taxes, even though taxes have been reduced. It’s unlikely Repub­li­cans will stray from their tra­di­tional script.

Taxes and spend­ing may become big­ger issues as the year pro­gresses. Recall last year, when Con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans repeat­edly held Amer­ica hostage to var­i­ous eco­nomic demands over the debt ceil­ing and the fed­eral bud­get. We have more bud­get deci­sions ahead of us, and the Bush tax cuts are again set to expire on Decem­ber 31. One result from last year’s debt ceil­ing fiasco is a sched­uled auto­matic seques­ter­ing of funds, to the tune of around a tril­lion dol­lars, divided between domes­tic and mil­i­tary spend­ing. There have been rumors of attempts to get around that law, mostly on the side of Repub­li­cans who don’t want to accept the mil­i­tary cuts, or who want to blame Democ­rats for reduc­ing the Pen­ta­gon bud­get. These all could become cam­paign issues, par­tic­u­larly if there are more brinks­man­ship games.

The price of gaso­line is ris­ing, and Repub­li­can Pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates are try­ing to make that an issue. Newt Gin­grich has made out­ra­geous promises about get­ting the price under $2.50 per gal­lon in a mat­ter of weeks after his inau­gu­ra­tion. Talk like that will be easy to counter, but the pur­pose of such rhetoric isn’t to make real­is­tic pol­icy pro­pos­als. Rather, the intent is to direct frus­tra­tion at ris­ing gas prices toward the cur­rent Admin­is­tra­tion and away from a dis­cus­sion of alter­na­tive energy sources. If fuel prices keep ris­ing — par­tic­u­larly if saber-​​rattling over Iran suc­ceeds in dri­ving those prices higher still — this could become a fer­tile source of cam­paign memes.

These are only some of the eco­nomic top­ics likely to be dis­cussed in the com­ing year. There are signs, how­ever, that the econ­omy will be less of a cen­tral issue than was expected, mostly because eco­nomic con­di­tions are improv­ing faster than many thought they would, and this strength­ens the President’s hand when talk­ing about his record. Increas­ingly, there has been a focus on social issues and mil­i­tary ques­tions. We’ll talk about them in a future arti­cle. For now — what have I for­got­ten on the eco­nomic side? What other aspects of the econ­omy could become the talk of the town?