Has Obama Lost His Economic Trump Card?

Updated from 3:52 p.m. EDT with a Romney campaign statement

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Barack Obama may have just lost his economic trump card.

The ISM manufacturing index -- a measure of manufacturing conditions in the United States -- dipped to 49.7 in June. The reading signaled contraction in the factory sector for the first time since July 2009.

"The economy just can't get out of its own way," said Josh Feinman, global chief economist at DB Advisors. "It's sobering ... because we went through the Great Recession and we need a period of strong growth to repair some of the damage that was done there and we're just not getting it."

Though the 49.7 reading doesn't indicate a recessionary dip in the U.S. economy, it does continue a trend of lackluster economic indicators that haven't helped the president's re-election message that things are getting better for the American people.

Manufacturing has been a strong suit for the administration and the president's campaign as the sector has grown at a relatively healthy clip for the better part of his term. But serious questions remain as to whether it will continue to grow with mounting international pressures.

Progress on the European debt crisis has lumbered along in 2012, which has resulted in prolonged investor uncertainty. A eurozone slowdown has also hit emerging markets, which send some 30% of their exports to the European Union .

China, a key emerging market, also plays into this global scenario -- one that isn't too rosy for Obama.

"Obviously I think people are worried about China; the expectation is that we will have a soft landing, so instead of 9.2% GDP growth that we got last year, maybe something in the mid- to high-7% area, but that number could be coming down as well, because we've had a continued series of disappointing PMI data," said Sam Stovall, chief equity strategist at S&P Capital IQ.

U.S. exports were particularly weak in May as eurozone manufacturing activity in the second quarter of 2012 was its worst in three years .

A Mitt Romney campaign spokeswoman said Monday that the latest manufacturing news proves Obama hasn't delivered the economic recovery he promised, but Stovall suggested it could be out of his control.

"I think that the president is in a tough position, because while he can talk about the economy , there's not much he can do about it," Stovall added.

It may be a fair assessment. DB Advisor's Feinman said he thinks the developed world has used all of its "levers." Many economists and investment analysts believe the Federal Reserve and other central banks have done all they can, and that now it's time for the politicians to ramp up fiscal action.

President Obama faces a Republican Congress that appears unwilling to compromise ahead of the November elections to solve the so-called fiscal cliff. Critics of the GOP argue the party is playing politics in order to pin economic woes on the White House.

The general feeling is that any agreement by Congress on expiring Bush tax cuts, the payroll tax, pending spending cuts, pending expiring programs (extended unemployment insurance and cuts in Medicare pay to doctors) and other potential U.S. fiscal drags would only help business and investor confidence.

But July won't necessarily determine who wins in November as voters are likely to look at overall economic trends in the three quarters leading up to Election Day, according to Yale University economist Ray Fair .

If conditions improve, it could bode well for Obama, but it's unwise to assume that the average voter will keep a pulse on the overwhelming number of economic indicators due out before the election.

"The problem that Obama faces with voters is they don't have confidence in his economic plan, or his background, so they're rooting for him to succeed, but they don't know that he's got the goods to do it," said Glenn Bolger, a Republican pollster at Public Opinion Strategies.

One of the Obama campaign's favorite talking points has been the strength of the manufacturing sector, which represents the blue-collar, middle-class bastion of American employees that could swing the president a second term.

Polls already suggest that 2012 will be a tight race, and dwindling U.S. factory growth through the summer would eliminate one of the Obama campaign's few successful economic campaign messages.

"I'm not sure voters felt in 1980 or 1992 that Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were better options, but they were at a point where they said, 'You know, we've given this guy four years, and things aren't getting better ... so it's time for a change,'" said Bolger.

The Obama campaign did not respond to repeated requests for comment. -- Written by Joe Deaux in New York.

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