August 4, 2011

Obama’s Big Drags
From Politico
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By Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen August 4, 2011 The politics of the debt fight were a drag for President Barack Obama, yanking his popularity to new lows. Here’s an even bigger drag: Obama emerges from the months-long fracas weaker – and facing much deeper and more durable political obstacles – than his own advisers ever imagined. The consensus has been that for all his problems, Obama is so skilled a politician – and the eventual GOP nominee so flawed or hapless — that he’d likely be re-elected. Don’t buy into it. This breezy certitude fails to reckon with how weak his fundamentals are a year out from the general election. Gallup pegs his approval rating at a discouraging 42 percent, with his standing among independents falling nine points in four weeks. His economic stats are even worse. The nation has 2.5 million fewer jobs today than the day Obama took office, a fact you’re sure to hear the Republicans repeat. Consumer confidence is scraping levels not seen since March 2009. Where’s the bright spot? Hard to see. Obama has few, if any, domestic achievements that enjoy broad public support. No one assumes employment, growth or housing prices to pick up much, if at all — something Obama is essentially powerless to change. And the political environment and electoral map are significantly tougher than in 2008, especially in true up-for-grabs states. “The historical precedents of what happens to incumbent presidents in these economic circumstances are not positive or encouraging,” said Geoff Garin, a top Democratic pollster. “There has been a false sense of confidence among a lot of Democratic activists.” … Privately, however, Obama’s team is concerned about the factors beyond its control, talking of an imminent need to retool their economic message and strategy heading into 2012. Absent the president’s ability to defy political gravity, one Obama adviser conceded, “The numbers add up to defeat.” … MALAISE Fast forward a year or so, when voters are starting to tune in, and the Republican nominee will be able to
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pluck economic data – not spin, empirical data – to make the following case against Obama: “We were promised hope and change - but instead life has been a drag in the Obama years. Millions of people lost jobs, saw the value of their house drop every month he’s been in office, never realized the economic growth he promised, and were so cash-strapped they couldn’t buy the big-ticket items they were used to.” … The White House anticipates unemployment at 8.25 percent and Goldman Sachs and others warn the number could be higher — close to 9 percent, which would mean no net job growth after the biggest stimulus package in the history of the world. No president has won re-election when unemployment was higher than 7.2 percent in 50 years. Median home values have declined every month Obama has been in office, too, according to Zillow, which monitors real estate markets. The site’s chief economist now predicts home value won’t bottom out until 2012 “or later.” So, the one asset Americans relied on for wealth – and until the crash, for spending money – will be the biggest concern for many. And because economic growth never lived up to the expectations set early by different White House officials at different times – remember “the summer of recovery”? – voters simply don’t have the money or confidence to buy big things like they use to. The auto industry is on pace to sell nearly 30 percent fewer new cars than it did a decade ago, and the sales of stoves and ovens haven’t been this low since 1992, according to David Leonhardt, the New York Times columnist who often defends the Obama economic policies. He provided Republicans some handy stats last month in a column with the stark conclusion: “We are living through a tremendous bust.” … BLOAT The backdrop for the economic debate has been, is, and will remain the broader argument about the size of government — and debt. … The size-of-government spat is a hard one for the president to win. By the time the next election rolls around, the government will have taken on almost $7 trillion in debt under Obama. It’s hard to explain away a number so big. … THE MAP All of these points meet on the electoral map, which isn’t looking great for Obama. … And putting aside the bleak psychological climate Obama faces as he starts his run, the physical terrain – the states needed add up to 270 electoral votes – looks more difficult than Democratic officials had expected even a few months ago. Obama’s electoral map from 2008 will be tough to duplicate, with all three perennial bellwethers – Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania – once again up for grabs. The states Obama won in 2008 have lost six electoral votes, complicating his quest. And in most of the nine states Obama won that Sen. John F. Kerry lost in 2004 – Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada, Virginia and Colorado – Democrats took a drubbing in the midterms. One poll has half the voters in Ohio down on Obama’s job performance, for instance. … Looking at Obama’s 2008 swing-state wins, Democrats have all but given up on Indiana, and know that he will have trouble keeping two other traditionally red states, Virginia and North Carolina; may have been hurt in Florida by unhappiness in the Jewish community about Obama’s handling of Israel; and will have a
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dogfight for the Rust Belt prizes of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan (where one respected state poll had him narrowly lagging Romney). Obama’s reelection strategy depends on running strong in the Mountain West, most critically in Colorado. But without at least a couple of the traditional bellwether states, Obama will be a one-term president. THE OBAMA LEGACY A big hurdle for the president is the unpopularity of the very policies that his team thought would be big accomplishments in the first term. … A top Democratic strategist who is close to the White House said that Obama’s first-term record “is going to be, on balance, probably a liability” for his reelection, partly “because of the failure to sell and explain the things that they were doing.” … “But the failure to communicate why they were doing it has meant that there is such confusion…It’s ground he’s going to have to make up, rather than things he’s going to be able to run on.” Polls show his economic policy, the health care law and the auto bailout gets positive reviews from fewer than half of voters. Hard to see how that changes. Mark Penn, chief strategy for Hillary Clinton in 2008 and CEO Worldwide of Burson-Marsteller, said “the biggest problem is that he has not accumulated enough domestic accomplishments that people can easily recall. He either has to start accumulating them as [President Bill] Clinton did – and a budget deal is a big opportunity — or he has to convince people that he has the right policies overall – they just haven’t worked yet.” INDEPENDENT ANGST … He entered office with 62 percent support among independents. But they took flight in the spring of 2009 – and have never returned. Those voters helped Republicans win the off-year gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia, now-Sen. Scott Brown’s race in Massachusetts a few months later, ultimately control of the House — and, more importantly but less talked-about, many state legislatures around the country. … To View The Entire Article, Please Visit: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0811/60640.html

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