Some now see Obama as the 'comeback kid'

For a guy who took a 'shellacking' in the midterm elections six weeks ago, President Obama is doing pretty well during this lame-duck political period. Still, his approval rating keeps dropping.

President Barack Obama flanked by members of Congress including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell signs the tax cut bill December 17. The measure would extend tax cuts for families at every income level, renew jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed, and enact a new one-year cut in Social Security taxes.

For a guy who took a “shellacking” in the midterm elections six weeks ago, President Obama is doing pretty well during this lame-duck political period.

He wrestled Republicans and his own liberal wing into passage of the tax cut/unemployment deal. After a fitful start, he got a trade deal with South Korea. Saturday he saw a huge win in the demise of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on gays serving openly in the military. And his allies on Capitol Hill so far have been able to beat back amendments that could have spiked the START nuclear weapons treaty with Russia.

“Is Barack Obama the new Comeback Kid?” ask USA Today writers Mimi Hall and Richard Wolf.

Related: Record-low support for Afghanistan war shows Obama's vulnerability

"This is the start of him looking like he can handle Washington in its current composition," Republican pollster Jon McHenry told the newspaper. "That's a huge deal."

Over at the Washington Post, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer also shakes his head admiringly as he describes Obama’s “comeback,” noting that he’s “already a year ahead” of where Bill Clinton was when the former president finally recovered from the midterm whupping he took in 1994.

Obama's 'impressive achievement'

“And that was Clinton responding nimbly to political opportunity,” Krauthammer writes. “Obama fashioned out of thin air his return to relevance, an even more impressive achievement.”

Reading today’s entrail-like polls, one finds confirming evidence of this view.

A new Washington Post poll shows Obama doing better than Clinton in 1994 or George W. Bush in 2006 – years when the former presidents suffered midterm defeats. Asked “Who do you trust to cope with the nation’s problems?” most voters back then picked the other party (Republicans in ’96, Democrats in ’06). This time, Obama edges out the GOP in trustworthiness.

In the same poll Obama also does better than Republicans when respondents are asked who is more “sincere in wanting to reduce the budget deficit.”

Still, all is not rosy for Obama – particularly as war in Afghanistan drags on and as economic recovery remains anemic.

“Consistent with the mood of the nation all year, 2010 is closing on a down note,” the Pew Center reported this past week. “Fully 72 percent are dissatisfied with national conditions, 89 percent rate national economic conditions as only fair or poor, and majorities or pluralities think the country is losing ground on nine of 12 major issues.”

The President’s approval rating has suffered as a result.

A Washington Post-ABC News Poll taken 10 days ago has Obama’s approval rating dropping steadily over his time in office from 68-49 percent. Meanwhile, his disapproval rating has grown from 25-47 percent. (The low point in his approval-disapproval rating was in early September, when it was 46-53.)

Setting a new political course

Naturally, the White House reads such poll numbers as it tries to set a better political course toward 2012.

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows most Americans approving Obama’s apparent shift toward the political center.

This survey was conducted by Republican Bill McInturff and Democrat Peter Hart. “Both pollsters say Mr. Obama retains a strong reservoir of good will, considering the string of bad news that has buffeted his White House,” the newspaper reports.

"There's a lot of work to be done, but I don't think the midterm elections have left him undone," Mr. Hart told the Wall Street Journal.

"People are feeling too bad to want a failed presidency," said Mr. McInturff, the Republican. "They want to retain some hope and optimism."

It’s a long throw from now until the 2012 presidential elections. At this point, it’s a mixed picture for the President, according to this survey.

Only 42 percent said they would probably vote for Obama if he runs again. Still, that’s better than the 39 percent who said they would probably vote for a Republican.

Related: Record-low support for Afghanistan war shows Obama's vulnerability

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