President Obama’s Virginia challenge in 2012

President Obama was the first Democrat to carry the Commonwealth of Virginia in a presidential race in 44 years. New polling from the Washington Post suggests that pessimism about the economy — particularly among independents — will complicate his calculus for another victory in 2012.

Just one in ten Virginians describe the state of the economy as either “excellent” or “good”in the new Post poll. A majority of independents (51 percent) said the economy was in “poor” shape.

That’s a stark contrast to where things stood in June 2007 as Tim Kaine was in his second year as governor and Obama’s victory was just a year or so away. At that time, 44 percent of Virginians called the economy “excellent” or “good”; just 21 percent of independents described the state of the economy as “poor” back in 2007.

Those numbers make clear that the struggles of the economy nationally are, not surprisingly, reflected in swing states heading into 2012.

But, it’s not just that the peoples’ perceptions about the economy are poor. The Post poll also suggests that independents’ positioning on economic issues more broadly has also grown more conservative.

Fifty three percent of independents now describe themselves as conservative on fiscal issues — an eight-point increase from 2007. And nearly six in ten independents (58 percent) think the government is doing too much that should be left to individuals. That number was roughly equivalent to the 56 percent of the overall sample who want the government to do less.

The economic dissatisfaction hasn’t impacted Obama’s overall approval numbers — yet.

Fifty-two percent of Virginians approve of how he has handled the job — although that number includes several days of polling done after the death of Osama bin Laden, when Obama’s numbers were considerably higher than before the killing of the terrorist.

Obama’s re-election numbers are not as positive, however. Thirty-nine percent said they “definitely” would not vote to re-elect Obama while 30 percent said they “definitely” would vote for him; 28 percent said they would consider voting for Obama for a second term.

All of these data points come nearly 18 months before the November 2012 election and, as such, are only a snapshot in time. But they do suggest that the economy’s recovery (or lack thereof) holds the key to Obama’s chances in the Commonwealth.

Donnelly running for Senate: Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), one of a handful of conservative Democrats to survive last fall’s bloodbath, is expected to announce this morning that he will run for Senate next year.

Democrats think that if six-term Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) loses his primary to state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, Donnelly has a chance. But after going for President Obama in 2008, Indiana swung very red in 2010 — former Rep. Brad Ellsworth lost to now-Sen. Dan Coats by about fifteen points. Like Donnelly, he was a Blue Dog Democrat aiming to appeal to moderates.

Despite the odds, running for Senate might be Donnelly’s best chance to stay in office. Redistricting is going to make his House seat dangerously Republican for any Democrat.

Tarryl Clark trying new district: Former Minnesota state senator Tarryl Clark, who challenged Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) last fall, will run against Rep. Chip Cravaack (R) this time around.

Though she lost to the high-profile Bachmann by 13 points, Clark raised more money than any other Democratic House challenger in 2010. Cravaack’s an easier target — the freshman beat former Rep. Jim Oberstar by only about 5,000 votes in a district held by Democrats since 1947.

Clark is the first candidate to announce, but many other Democrats are reportedly interested in this race, including Duluth City Councilor Jeff Anderson; Daniel Fanning, the deputy state director for Sen. Al Franken; state Rep. Kerry Gauthier; state Rep. John Ward; former U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan; and former state Rep. Tim Faust of Mora.

Fixbits:

A third Democrat has announced his intentions to run for retiring Sen. Joe Liberman’s seat in 2010 — state Rep. William Tong, who was taught by President Obama at the University of Chicago Law School.

Some of Iowa’s top Republican donors are heading to New Jersey, hoping to convince Gov. Chris Christie to run for president.

Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), a rising conservative star, is questioning his party’s attempts to defund bits and pieces of the Democratic health-care law.

The New Hampshire Union-Leader’s editorial board seems to have completely forgotten that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney spoke at a recent Americans for Prosperity event.

Obama’s national security team was sharply divided over killing Osama bin Laden, the president told CBS News’ “60 Minutes” last night.

The Virginia Senate race is all tied up, according to a new Post poll.

Must Reads:

GOP debate fuels a longshot” - Neil King Jr., WSJ

Rancor, political games take toll on Mike Haridopolos” - Marc Caputo and Steve Bousquet, Times/Herald

Alice Rivlin, Washington’s budget guru” - Andy Sullivan, Reuters

Big GOP donors adopt wait-and-see 2012 tack” - Jim Rutenberg and Jeff Zeleny, NYT

With Rachel Weiner

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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