President Obama’s Rise Fueled by Improving Economy

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  February 15, 2012 at 9:34 AM EDT

President Obama; photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Obama’s overall approval rating has climbed to 50 percent, according to a new poll. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

With the economy showing signs of life, so too are President Obama’s re-election hopes, according to a poll released Tuesday by the New York Times and CBS News.

The president’s overall approval rating has climbed to 50 percent, up five points from the beginning of the year. Forty-three percent of Americans said they disapproved of his job performance. On his handling of the economy, 44 percent of poll respondents approved, compared to 50 percent who said they disapproved.

When respondents were asked if they thought the economy was getting better, getting worse or staying about the same, 34 percent said better, 22 percent said worse and 43 percent said about the same. That represents a turnaround from September, when only 12 percent said the economy was improving, compared to 43 percent who said it was getting worse.

Mr. Obama received lower marks for his approach to dealing with the federal budget deficit, with 59 percent of respondents saying they disapproved. Only a third said they approved of his handling of the issue.

Still, the improved economic outlook has Mr. Obama in good shape against the four remaining Republican presidential candidates seeking the opportunity to challenge him in the general election.

President Obama leads Mitt Romney by six percentage points (48/42), Rick Santorum by seven (49/41), Ron Paul by 11 (50/39) and Newt Gingrich by 18 (54/36).

The New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg and Allison Kopicki put February’s snapshot into perspective:

Polls can capture only a specific moment in time. To the extent that Mr. Obama’s improved standing is tied to the economy, it is tenuous. Grim economic news continues to trickle out of Europe. Iranian saber rattling is increasing the sense of instability in the Middle East. Even the White House warns that jobless numbers are as likely to rise in the coming months as they are to dip.

THE BATTLE FOR MICHIGAN

As polls show Romney trailing Santorum in the state where he was born, the former Massachusetts governor is stressing his Michigan roots in an ad that shows him driving a Chrysler through neighborhoods.

“Now when I grew up in Michigan it was exciting to be here. I remember going to the Detroit auto show with my dad. That was a big deal. How in the world did an industry and its leaders and its unions get in such a fix that they lost jobs, that they lost their future?” Romney says in the ad. “President Obama did all these things that liberals have wanted to do for years. The fact that you’ve got millions of Americans out of work, home values collapsing, people here in Detroit are distressed.”

He ends with a pledge: “I want to make Michigan stronger and better. Michigan has been my home and this is personal.”

Watch the ad here or below:

The new TV spot and his op-ed in Tuesday’s Detroit Free Press are all part of Romney’s strategy to shield himself from attacks for his 2008 stance against the auto bailouts for Chrysler and General Motors, actions that remain popular in the state.

But Michigan Democrats are crying foul. In a Tuesday afternoon conference call, former Gov. Jennifer Granholm charged that Romney had “stabbed us in the back in our darkest hour” by calling for the car manufacturers to go through the bankruptcy process.

While acknowledging that all four GOP hopefuls opposed the auto bailouts, Granholm contended Romney’s stance was “particularly acute” given his Michigan ties. “All of them are wrong,” Granholm said. “But for Romney, in particular, it shows that the man has no principles, no core.”

Santorum began airing a new television ad of his own in Michigan on Tuesday, a sunny, 30-second spot that includes video of the former Pennsylvania senator on the campaign trail and with his wife and children.

“Who has the best chance to beat Obama?” the male narrator asks at the start. “Rick Santorum, a full-spectrum conservative.”

The ad goes on to tout Santorum’s “rock solid” positions on values issues, support for Tea Party principles and his foreign policy experience. The spot also highlights the his jobs plan that aims to bolster the manufacturing sector.

It closes with the line: “Rick Santorum, a trusted conservative who gives us the best chance to take back America.”

Politico has an early look at another Santorum campaign spot that takes direct aim at “Romney’s negative attack machine.” The humorous ad uses a hulking Romney doppelganger with a machine gun firing mud at a cardboard cut-out of Santorum, with all of the shots missing their intended target. The punch line comes when the mud splatters on the Romney stand-in’s white dress shirt, with the narrator saying, “In the end, Mitt Romney’s ugly attacks are going to backfire.”

Campaigning Tuesday in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, which holds its caucuses in March, Santorum asserted that Romney’s efforts to pitch himself as a conservative are not authentic.

“Gov. Romney is now casting himself in this new role as a conservative and he has no track record of having ever been elected as one,” Santorum said. “That raises a lot of questions for people as to whether, when the primary is over, whether he’ll still be a conservative.”

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found Santorum leading Romney in popularity. But it also showed Romney regaining some of the traction he lost with independents.

Jon Cohen writes:

60 percent of Republicans view Romney favorably; it’s 61 percent for Santorum. Romney also gets nearly double the number of unfavorable reviews as about one in four Republicans expressed no opinion about Santorum.

Among Republicans, Santorum has jumped from 48 to 61 percent since early January. The increase is entirely among Republicans without college diplomas, echoing some of the main intra-party cleavages between Santorum and Romney. Those with college degrees are unmoved over this period of time, with still largely favorable views of the former senator.

That might be one reason Romney boosters want to bring Santorum down a notch. The pro-Romney Restore our Future super PAC is taking aim at Santorum with a new spot airing in Michigan, Ohio and Arizona focusing on Santorum’s votes to increase the debt ceiling. Watch it here.

PAYROLL PUSH

As the NewsHour went on air Tuesday night, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was presenting a deal on extending the payroll tax cut, payments for doctors that serve Medicare beneficiaries and unemployment insurance benefits to his GOP conference.

The Takeaway’s Todd Zwillich outlined the broad parameters of the still-in-the-works deal in a conversation with Judy Woodruff. Watch.

A Republican aide familiar with the talks told the Morning Line what members are hearing behind closed doors.

“The plan provides temporary tax relief for American families and takes off the table a false political attack the President and congressional Democrats wanted to use all year long — that somehow Republicans were standing in the way of a middle class tax cut. There are no job-killing tax hikes to pay for more government spending,” the aide said.

Among the details the House GOP is still reviewing in a Wednesday morning meeting: Unemployment benefits will last a maximum of 63 weeks in most states, and people getting the money must be searching for a job. Anyone who lost a job because of a failed drug test would be subject to drug screening before getting benefits.

The “doc fix” payment to Medicare doctors would last through the end of the year.

The aide noted that government spending in the deal is “fully offset” with cuts and reforms and said the proposal includes cuts to the president’s health care law. But in a signal that Republicans have given in to the political reality that they were losing on the issue, the aide noted that the “underlying policies are flawed.”

Democrats still need to sign off on the details, but aides were feeling confident Tuesday night that a deal will indeed be forged. Should everyone at the table agree on Wednesday, members could still vote on Friday and head home for their planned President’s Day recess.

However, as President Obama said Tuesday during an appearance at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House, “[Y]ou can’t take anything for granted here in Washington until my signature is actually on it.”

2012 LINE ITEMS

  • Texas officials are acknowledging the April presidential primary will have to move due to redistricting legal battles. Some are advocating May 22 as the new date.

  • Santorum mega donor Foster Friess told Politico’s Ken Vogel that he tried to convince Gingrich mega donor Sheldon Adelson to support Santorum and also planned to solicit donations from donors linked to the libertarian billionaire industrialist Koch brothers. Their most recent gathering of major donors, held late last month in Indian Wells, Calif., was attended by both Adelson and Friess. A source close to the Adelsons dismissed the Bloomberg report that Adelson intended to cut off the flow of cash to the pro-Gingrich super PAC, explaining Adelson has not made it known whether he intends to continue contributing to Winning Our Future and would not be influenced by pressure from other donors or candidates. Meanwhile, Gingrich’s campaign is considering assisting the fundraising of a supportive super PAC.

  • A Quinnipiac University poll of released Wednesday showed Santorum leading Romney 36 percent to 29 percent among Republican voters in Ohio, one of the big Super Tuesday prizes on March 6. The survey also found that President Obama leads all of his potential GOP opponents in the Buckeye State, with Romney posing the toughest challenge.

  • Eric Russell of the Bangor Daily News writes about the pressure building on the Maine Republican Party to reconsider its declaration that Romney won Saturday’s caucuses. The state GOP had called the race despite Washington County having postponed its caucuses because of a forecast of snow. A review of town-by-town results suggests that other communities might not have had their votes counted.

  • Given the difficulties experienced by Iowa, Nevada and Maine, the Washington Post’s Felicia Sonmez asks the question, “Should parties say farewell to caucuses?”

  • Roll Call’s Shira Toeplitz writes that redistricting shenanigans in Pennsylvania could muck up the presidential primary calendar.

  • The Los Angeles Times’ Mark Barbarak and John Hoeffel report that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has been selected chairman of the Democratic National Convention to be held in Charlotte, N.C., this September.

  • Gingrich took a break from campaigning Tuesday in California to visit the San Diego Zoo. As Morning Line readers know, the former House speaker is a well-known lover of zoos and zoo animals.

  • Emma Fitzsimmons of the New York Times reports on the “Dogs Against Romney” rally outside the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York on Tuesday. The protest was organized to draw attention to the story of how 25 years ago Romney drove from Boston to Ontario, Canada, with the family’s Irish Setter, Seamus, in a carrier strapped to the roof of the car.

TOP TWEETS

OUTSIDE THE LINES

  • Roll Call’s Emma Dumain writes that some of the Tea Party freshmen on Capitol Hill are finding “It’s not easy to get the government to stop giving you money — or to give money back the way you want to.” She notes, “In the 13 months since they entered office, these Members have found themselves running up against institutional barriers that have kept them from making gestures as seemingly simple as returning cash from their office budgets to the Treasury Department or opting out of the Congressional retirement system.”

  • Club for Growth President Chris Chocola wrote an op-ed in the National Review Tuesday announcing the PAC’s endorsement of Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock in his GOP primary bid to unseat Sen. Richard Lugar.

In the editorial, Chocola cited earmarks as the “final straw” for the the group’s decision to endorse the six-term incumbent’s rival. (It’s a theme Mourdock is using himself in a new TV ad called “Earmarks.”)

But even with the Club for Growth endorsement, Murdock faces a stiff headwind. A National Research poll commissioned by Lugar’s campaign showed him leading his challenger 55 percent to 30 percent. Not to mention his $4 million war chest compared with Mourdock’s paltry $362,000 in the bank as of Dec. 31.

  • A WBUR poll released Tuesday showed a close race for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, with Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren leading Republican Sen. Scott Brown 46 percent to 43 percent. The three-point advantage for Warren is within the poll’s margin of error.

  • The Newseum has an exhibit opening Friday called “Every Four Years: Presidential Campaigns and the Press.” It explores how the media’s coverage of elections has evolved from William McKinley’s 1896 front-porch campaign to Barack Obama’s web-driven model in 2008. Among the items on display: the “Florida, Florida, Florida” white board used by NBC’s Tim Russert on election night 2000 and the suit, flag lapel pin and eyeglasses worn by Tina Fey as Sarah Palin for a “Saturday Night Live” sketch during the 2008 campaign.

  • The NewsHour tackles Linsanity. Watch.

NewsHour politics desk assistant Alex Bruns contributed to this report.

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • Rick Santorum campaigns in North Dakota, touring Hess Oil in Tioga at 11 a.m., hosting a Tioga town hall at 1:30 p.m. and holding a rally in Fargo at 8 p.m.

  • Mitt Romney visits office furniture manufacturer Compatico in Grand Rapids, Mich., for a roundtable on jobs at 5:50 p.m. and a rally at 6:15 p.m.

  • Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul have no public events scheduled.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.

Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers.