As Republican candidates pummel each other, Obama can only smile

As the Republican presidential candidates continue to battle and improvement in the US economy is seen, President Obama is getting better public reviews – good news for his re-election bid.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
President Barack Obama greets guests at the Rolls-Royce Crosspointe jet engine disc manufacturing facility on Friday, March 9, in Prince George, Va. Recent jobs figures and public attitudes about an improving economy may be boosting Obama's re-election prospects.

With eight months to go before the presidential election – can it really be that long? – a lot could go wrong for President Obama.

The US recovery could falter and unemployment inch back up – perhaps as a result of European economic difficulties jumping the Atlantic. Gasoline prices could become even more burdensome on businesses and individual Americans. Disengaging from war in Afghanistan could prove more difficult than Pentagon planners figure. Obama may have to fulfill his very public pledge to “cover Israel’s back” in response to Iran’s nuclear weapons capability.

And of course there are always what former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld used to call “unknown unknowns … things we do not know we don't know.”

But for now, at least in terms of presidential election politics, there must be at least a few Cheshire cat grins around the White House.

None of the four remaining Republican contenders shows any signs of dropping out as they continue to pummel each other on the primary/caucus trail. If Newt Gingrich were to do badly in next Tuesday’s primaries in Mississippi and Alabama and call it quits, that would leave Rick Santorum to concentrate his fire on front-runner Mitt Romney – who would have to respond, further delaying the point at which he can concentrate fulltime on Obama, return to his inherently moderate self, and hope to look presidential.

The Monitor's Weekly News Quiz for March 3-9, 2012

Meanwhile, as Fox News political analyst Juan Williams pointed out this week, “The protracted political battle on the Republican side has already begun to do damage to the party’s brand.”

“An NBC News/Wall Street Journal from last week found that 40 percent of adults say the primary process so far has given them a less favorable impression of the GOP. Only 12 percent say they have a more favorable impression,” Williams wrote on Fox’s website. “When pollsters asked people to describe the GOP primary in one word or phrase, almost 70 percent responded with a negative comment … ‘painful,’ ‘poor choices,’ ‘depressed,’ ‘discouraged’ and ‘uninspiring.’” 

At the same time, Obama’s own “brand” is starting to become shinier.

The poll Williams refers to also finds that Obama’s approval rating has inched back up to 50 percent. He would beat Romney 50-44 percent in a head-to-head match today (and the other GOP hopefuls by wider margins).

For one thing, the Wall Street Journal reported, the poll found diminishing signs of economic pessimism, with 57 percent of Americans now saying the "worst is behind us,'' up from 49 percent in November. February’s employment report – US employers added 227,000 jobs to complete three of the best months of hiring since the recession began – is good news for the Obama re-election team as well as for the country.

“A real recovery, in line with historical rates of economic rehabilitation, has finally arrived,” writes Adam Sorensen, editor of Time magazine’s “Swampland” political website.

“If it continues, it could shift the burden … to Republicans, completely rebalancing the 2012 presidential race,” he writes. “Mitt Romney (most likely) would have to make the case that things would be much better now if Obama had not hampered the economy with onerous regulation. Rather than asking Americans if they’re better off, he’ll have to dive into the weeds of Big Government gone bad and persuade voters that Obama is not realizing America’s full potential.”

Again, events could interfere with Obama’s upward political trend.

But for now, Democratic pollster Peter Hart told the Wall Street Journal. “President Obama is probably in the best political shape he's been in since the first year of his presidency.”

“If he were the prime minister of Britain, he would dissolve the Parliament and run for re-election in the next three weeks,” Hart said.

Alas for Democrats and Obama, they still have to slog it out for eight more months.

The Monitor's Weekly News Quiz for March 3-9, 2012

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