Off to Bar Harbor, Maine, Obama ends week on an up note

Obama – and the Democrats – may well feel buoyed by better news about the Gulf oil spill, Senate passage of financial reform, and latest poll numbers for vulnerable Sen. Harry Reid. The president now gets a weekend away, in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP
President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia are accompanied by Air Force Col. Lee dePalo, vice commander of the 316th Wing, and his wife Kelly dePalo as they walk toward Air Force One, Friday, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

President Obama may well feel he has earned his weekend away with the family in Bar Harbor, Maine.

A containment cap on BP’s blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico has finally stopped the gushing oil. Sweeping financial reform gained final Senate passage Thursday and is ready for Mr. Obama’s signature next Wednesday. The Democrats are about to get a temporary replacement for the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D) of West Virginia, which will put in place the crucial 60th Senate vote needed to pass an extension of unemployment insurance. That vote is expected next Tuesday.

Obama was feeling so good Friday morning that he took six questions from the press (after offering “just one or two”) following a statement on the capped BP well before taking off for Maine. Obama is typically fairly tight-lipped with reporters.

“So to summarize, the new cap is good news,” Obama said in the Rose Garden. “Either we will be able to stop the flow, or we will be able to use it to capture almost all of the oil until the relief well is done.”

Obama injected a note of caution when asked if the situation in the Gulf had turned a corner. The final solution to the oil leak, he said, remains the relief wells that are still under construction. But even if the containment cap doesn’t completely stop the oil, “it’s going to allow us to capture much more oil and we’ll see less oil flowing into the Gulf,” he said.

Democrats are even finding some positive signs in a generally bleak election landscape. The latest poll by the independent Mason-Dixon polling firm shows Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada suddenly ahead of the "tea party"-backed Republican nominee, Sharron Angle, by seven percentage points, 44 to 37. The unpopular Senator Reid has been considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats this cycle, but former state Representative Angle’s upset victory in the primary has injected new life into Reid’s campaign.

Any incumbent polling below 50 percent is still in trouble. But Angle’s hard-line conservative views – she favors phasing out Medicare and Social Security, closing the Department of Education, and withdrawing the US from the United Nations – have given Reid fodder for a five-week pounding in TV and radio ads. Apparently it had an impact.

The political press may be tempted to highlight any positives for the Democrats, in the interest of giving a persistently negative story line – Obama’s declining job approval, Democrats in trouble – an eye-catching tweak. Indeed, campaign handicapper Charlie Cook could be guilty of that in his end-of-week analysis, entitled, “A Glimmer of Hope for Democrats.” After plowing through reams of polling data from the Democratic firm Benenson Strategy Group, which Mr. Cook describes as “grisly” for the Democrats, he finds a message in there with potential to help the party. Respondents were given a choice between a candidate who would stick with Obama’s economic policies and one who would return to those of his predecessor, President Bush. Obama beat Mr. Bush 49 to 34 percent.

Of course, by Election Day, Bush will have been out of office nearly two years, and the public probably won’t have much patience for reviving what feels like ancient history. Typically, a midterm election is a referendum on the party in power.

But “if the Democrats can frame this election as Bush versus Obama, even to a moderate degree, Democrats might be able to keep their House losses down,” Cook writes in National Journal. “They don't have a great shot at succeeding, but they don't seem to have many promising alternatives.”

Indeed, Cook still asserts that it’s “very likely” the Democrats will lose the House and “possibly” the Senate.

In his Q and A with the press, Obama said he didn’t feel the 3.6 magnitude earthquake that hit close to Washington, D.C., at 5:04 Friday morning. If the Democrats lose both the House and Senate, that’s an earthquake he’ll notice.


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