President Obama Gets His Groove Back

An improving economy and Republican presidential rivalries are helping boost confidence in President Obama.

Not that long ago, President Obama seemed destined for defeat in November. The economy showed few signs of improvement, unemployment continued to hover at historically high levels and Obama’s job approval ratings reached historic lows. Lately, however, things are starting to look up.

According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday, for the first time in seven months more people approve of the president’s job performance, by a margin of 48 percent to 46 percent. That’s not all: 37 percent said they believe the economy will improve in 2012, the highest level in more than a year.

President Obama also seems both more confident and buoyant these days. He’s shed his cloak of conciliation and is standing firm against Congressional Republicans. That’s given him some political victories and helped channel that 2004 feeling, when anything seemed possible.

It’s a stark contrast to Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, who, when they’re not slamming the president, are bashing each other. While Obama proposes job creation strategies and argues for economic fairness, the two Republican frontrunners are debating who’s more like former president Ronald Reagan and criticizing how each earned his wealth.

David Bositis, senior political analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, says Americans are watching the GOP presidential hopefuls on the campaign trail and in debates and not liking what they see, in part because the primary process has forced the candidates to move so far to the right.

“The debates have been a disaster for the Republicans because they’ve exposed all sorts of things about what the candidates and their supporters believe,” said Bositis, citing their boos at a gay veteran’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” query and cheers when Gov. Rick Perry crowed about how many executions had taken place in Texas.

“What do they see in Obama? Someone who is even-tempered and rational, and always reaching out — even to his enemies,” said Bositis.

Ironically, notes Robert Smith, a political scientist at San Francisco State University, the Republican contest is boosting the president’s prospects for re-election.

“It’s almost like they’re making his point for him as when Gingrich attacks Romney on his finances, highlighting themes of the wealthy not paying their fair share and getting unfair tax breaks,” says Smith. Obama can pick up on those themes as he did in his State of the Union address and not name names, because his prospective rivals are doing the job for him, he adds.

“I think the fall campaign issues have been framed in terms of the Occupy Movement, the Republican primary contest and the president’s own interest in drawing a line between the wealthy and the middle class,” said Smith. “The thing that will blow it for him is if this pattern of economic improvement reverses itself. In the end, it’s going to be more [about] how the economy feels that will be more important than anything he says.”

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(Photo: REUTERS/Jason Reed)

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