Unless the president can get his approval rating up to 50 percent before Election Day, it may not matter if he faces Romney or Perry
All the turmoil in the Republican presidential race has President Obama's campaign brain trust focusing on fundamentals.
Regardless of the Republican nominee, those on the Obama team recognize that their biggest obstacle is voter disappointment with his performance, particularly on the economy. They believe one of their biggest opportunities is that voters generally prefer the president's ideas for dealing with jobs and the deficit over Republican alternatives. They understand that their biggest challenge is to improve the retrospective judgment about his performance while simultaneously encouraging voters to focus more on the prospective comparison with the GOP.
In most national surveys, Obama's approval rating is running around 45 percent. (Some top Democrats worry that the actual number among likely voters is lower.) Even more ominous, more than two-thirds of Americans surveyed routinely say the country is on the wrong track, the highest level in decades. On both fronts, those numbers more resemble the profile of presidential losers than of winners.
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Most political strategists agree that given today's cynicism about politicians, incumbents can now win reelection with an approval rating of less than 50 percent, the historic danger line. The question is how much less. Inside Obama's camp, some talk optimistically about winning states with ratings scarcely above 40 percent--so long as voters dislike the Republican candidate even more.