President Obama Puts Another Rough Week to Bed

BY David Chalian  September 16, 2011 at 8:28 AM EDT

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden; photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, spoke about his jobs plan at the White House on Monday. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

President Obama closes out another very tough week Friday, one in which he faced a continued stream of negative economic data, a Congress (including members of his own party) that doesn’t seem all that eager to pass his $447 billion jobs bill as is, a high-profile investigation of a botched green-tech stimulus program where politics seemed to trump process and an electoral rebuke of his party in two House special elections in battleground Nevada and base blue New York City.

And just to pour a little salt in the wound, Bloomberg News is out with a new poll that shows 34 percent of Americans saying that the country would be better off now if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been elected president in 2008.

Obama campaign senior strategist David Axelrod has issued the first in a series of memos about the state of the president’s campaign. The memo is addressed to “Sunday Show Producers” and is clearly attempting to impact some of the inside-the-Beltway chatter about the President Obama’s precarious political position heading into his re-election year.

“Members of the media have focused on the President’s approval ratings as if they existed in a black box. Following the intransigence of the Republicans during the debt debate, the approval rating of the GOP brand dropped to a historic low. The approval rating of Congress dropped to a near historic low,” writes Axelrod.

He goes on to cite polling out this week that shows many of the president’s jobs legislation proposals are popular with voters.

But what may be most telling about the state of the campaign is the portion of the memo that seeks to debunk the meme that President Obama is losing favor with his base.

“Despite what you hear in elite commentary, the President’s support among base voters and in key demographic groups has stayed strong,” Axelrod writes. “According to the latest NBC-WSJ poll, Democrats approve of his performance by an 81%-14% margin. That’s stronger than President Clinton’s support among Democrats at this point in his term and, according to Gallup, stronger than any Democratic President dating back to Harry Truman through this point in their presidency. 92 percent of African Americans approve. And a PPP poll out this week showed the President winning 67 percent of Hispanics against Romney and 70 percent against Perry, a higher percentage than he captured against Senator McCain in 2008.”

It’s hard to recall Axelrod needing to make an argument about the strength of base support for Mr. Obama when he was running against John McCain in 2008.

Of course, that’s also Axelrod’s point. The president is not yet running against anyone. The Obama team has been saying for months that this election will eventually become a choice between a Republican nominee (whom they plan to aggressively frame as out of touch with mainstream America and prescribing the same policies that caused the country’s current economic hardship) and the president.

Their biggest problem is that they’re still possibly five to six months away (if not longer) from that point. With no fast and robust economic rebound on the horizon, the president and his team will likely have to suffer through more rough weeks like this one before the sharp contrast between the choices can begin.

PERRY’S MIDDLE GROUND

In searching for the middle ground when it comes to his Afghanistan policy, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has opened himself up to charges of flip-flopping on his approach to the conflict from two of his rivals for the GOP nomination.

At the Tampa, Fla., debate this past Monday, Perry seemed to side with former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who has proposed accelerating the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

“I think the entire conversation about how do we deliver our aid to those countries, and is it best spent with 100,000 military who have the target on their back in Afghanistan — I don’t think so at this particular point in time,” Perry said.

The Republican front-runner appeared to double down on that position in an interview with Time magazine.

“I think we need to try to move our men and women home as soon as we can. Not just in Afghanistan, but in Iraq as well,” Perry said.

“Our overall objective has to be to serve that process and to drive out those who would do harm to our country. I think we’ve done that in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Perry went on to tell Time. “We have substantial ways to continue to put the pressure on the bad guys, if you will, and I don’t think keeping a large force of United States uniform military in Afghanistan for a long period of time is particularly in the interest of the U.S., or for that matter, in Afghani interest.”

An unnamed Perry foreign policy adviser sought to clarify the governor’s comments in an interview with Foreign Policy’s “The Cable.”

“[Perry] would lean toward wanting to bring our troops home, but he understands that we have vital strategic interests in Afghanistan and that a precipitous withdrawal is not what he’s recommending,” the adviser said. “He has a clear sense of the mission and wanting to win it, but not just by throwing the kitchen sink at it.”

By attempting to smooth out his position, Perry opened himself up to criticism from his GOP competitors, two of whom happily pounced on the development.

Mitt Romney’s campaign sent out an email Thursday afternoon titled “Rick’s Reversal on Afghanistan,” pitting Perry’s comments against those given to Foreign Policy by his unnamed advisor.

Meanwhile, Huntsman foreign policy adviser Randy Shriver said in a statement that “Governor Perry’s attempt to walk back his support for Governor Huntsman’s position on Afghanistan shows a fundamental lack of leadership and understanding of foreign policy.”

As President Obama can certainly tell Perry, the middle ground is not the easiest place to be politically when it comes to the Afghanistan conflict, a position the Texas governor will likely have to defend at some point during next week’s debate in Orlando.

MICHIGAN ON THE MOVE?

The Detroit Free Press reports that the Michigan legislature is set to make Feb. 28 the date of the 2012 presidential primary in the Wolverine State.

“The 2012 Michigan presidential primary appears close to being set for Feb. 28, a date that would make it a crucial test for Republican candidates. State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, said Tuesday that legislation setting the date could be voted on this week.

“The date would make Michigan among the earliest presidential nominating states, behind only Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. But the early primary could result in Michigan losing half its delegates to the GOP nominating convention because it would violate national party rules.”

Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer just recently set the same date for her state’s primary. Both Arizona and Michigan would be in violation of RNC rules and subject to the penalty of losing half their delegates at the convention in Tampa next year. However, they would both get to play a critical role in the nominating process coming on the heels of the four early contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

Both Romney and Michele Bachmann were campaigning in Arizona this week, and the state is expected to host an RNC approved debate in December.

Michigan, of course, is nearly home turf for Romney, whose father served as governor there. Romney won the Michigan primary in 2008.

ON THE TRAIL

All events listed in Eastern Time.

  • President Obama delivers remarks and signs the America Invents Act into law at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., at 11:10 a.m.

  • Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman speaks at the Salem Rotary Meeting in Salem, N.H., at 7:30 a.m. and holds an endorsement event in Manchester, N.H., at 10:15 a.m.

  • Texas Gov. Rick Perry has several events in Iowa: He speaks a Jasper County GOP meet and greet in Newton at 9:15 a.m., addresses the Iowa Credit Union Annual Convention in Des Moines at 1 p.m., gives remarks after a tour of a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Atlantic at 3:15 p.m. and speaks at a Pottawattamie County GOP meet and greet in Council Bluffs at 6:30 p.m.

  • Herman Cain is in South Carolina for a rally in Aiken at 9:30 a.m., a meet and greet in Simpsonville at 1 p.m. and another rally in Rock Hill at 4:30 p.m.

  • Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann holds a rally in Costa Mesa, Calif., at 12 p.m., addresses the California GOP State Party in Los Angeles at 10:30 p.m. and appears on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” at 11:35 p.m.

For a complete list of upcoming campaign events, be sure to check out our Political Calendar.

For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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