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The GOP’s Jimmy Carter fixation

at 06:30 AM ET, 12/02/2011

Don’t look now, but all of a sudden, Republicans are running against Jimmy Carter again. Or at least trying to.

To wit:

* The GOP gleefully pointed to a Gallup poll earlier this week that showed President Obama’s numbers dipping below Carter’s at the same point in their respective terms.

* The National Republican Senatorial Committee released a web video Wednesday titled “Malazy” – a hybrid of Carter’s “malaise” and Obama’s “lazy” quotes.

* And Thursday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign released a new TV ad comparing Obama’s and Carter’s statements on energy independence.

While Carter certainly isn’t a popular figure in the GOP these days, it’s also not clear that using him as a stand-in for Obama more than 30 years after his presidency ended has much effect.

But Republicans insist it can’t hurt — particularly among the base — even as just a fun sideshow.

The logic isn’t hard to follow.

Carter came into office as something different — someone the American people wanted to believe in after some tough times. He wasn’t as experienced politically as your normal president after a single term as governor, didn’t have much of a national profile, and had great expectations thrust on him after the Nixon and Ford administrations.

And he foundered, with economic problems persisting and his approval rating dipping below 40 percent during much of his reelection campaign.

“They wanted change and picked this random Southern governor,” said a Republican source who has employed the Carter strategy. “I don’t think the Romney campaign is going to spend a lot of time going over this, but I think it’s the same kind of vibe.”

Another GOP strategist, Dan Hazelwood, said the parallels are almost too easy to draw and really speak to GOP activists.

“For Republicans, Jimmy Carter represents the dictionary definition of an incompetent president lost in the demands of the job,” Hazelwood said. “It is an instant brand awareness.”

More and more, this has been the theme of GOP attacks on Obama — i.e. ‘Yes, he’s a nice guy, but he can’t get the job done.’ And Carter is a great proxy for that.

At the same time, polling doesn’t necessarily indicate that the country at large sees Carter as some kind of punchline.

A Gallup poll from a year ago showed his approval rating has dropped significantly in recent years, but he still earns the approval of the majority (52 percent) of Americans.

“It isn’t a particularly effective issue for the public because I think it was too long ago for people to have the kind of emotional reaction necessary for an issue to be effective,” said GOP consultant Sal Russo.

More than anything, it seems, Carter is a reference point — someone Republicans can use to rally the base a year away from the election.

“It works tremendously well as a point to begin to focus the debate and energize the base,” Hazelwood said. “It is not the closing argument.”

And if nothing else, it harkens back to an election the GOP would very much like to relive, the 1980 contest in which Ronald Reagan dispatched Carter by winning 44 of 50 states.

Cain says wife didn’t know about Ginger White: Herman Cain is in hot water in the presidential race, but that might be nothing compared to what’s waiting at home.

In an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader on Thursday, Cain acknowledged that his wife didn’t know who Ginger White was or that he was helping her financially.

1) If he’s helping her and not telling his wife, that’s bad.

2) That fact that he’s helping a woman who isn’t his wife without telling her is a major perception problem when it comes to getting people to believe you that you didn’t have an affair. That’s bad.

Cain is talking to his wife about the matter in person for the first time today.

Christie tries on attack-dog collar: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) endorsement of Mitt Romney might not have caused a huge splash yet, but he’s starting to make waves for the former Massachusetts governor.

In an interview in Florida on Thursday, Christie dismissed Newt Gingrich as the “newest flavor of the two weeks” and questioned the former House speaker’s pedigree for the presidency, noting that Gingrich is a longtime legislator and not an executive.

“Speaker Gingrich has never run anything,” Gingrich said. “I have to tell you: I don’t think being a legislator is the best calling card. Look at the guy we have in the White House now; he never ran anything and was a legislator.”

Christie’s endorsement may not have moved many votes initially, but he’s one of the best when it comes to jousting. It will be interesting to see just how much Team Romney puts him out there as an attack dog.

Gingrich takes a shot at ... Fox News?: This is an interesting strategy.

Gingrich, a former Fox News contributor in his own right, appeared to take a little jab at his former employer on Thursday.

Asked a question about the HIV/AIDS vaccine, Gingrich responded that he didn’t know the answer.

“One of the real changes comes when you start running for president -- as opposed to being an analyst on Fox -- is I have to actually know what I’m talking about,” he said.

Now, this could simply be interpreted as Gingrich talking about how much more challenging it is for him in his new job than his old one. But given the importance of Fox to Republican candidates, most of them tread pretty lightly. And to suggest that its analysts may not be up to speed?

Fixbits:

Democratic super PACs Priorities USA and American Bridge join forces to release a web video labeling Romney a career politician and a memo fighting back on Romney’s efforts trying to suggest he’s not a career politician. Romney has tried to apply that label to Gingrich in recent days.

Former Republican National Committee spokesman Doug Heye has signed on with the Iowa Republican Party as a senior advisor guiding the party’s communications efforts in advance of its Jan. 3 caucuses.

Gingrich stands behind his comments that poor kids should be put to work as janitors in their schools.

The leader of an association for home schoolers in Iowa says Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-Minn.) campaign has illegally used its mailing list.

The House voted Thursday to eliminate public funding of presidential elections.

Former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson (D) is reportedly under investigation for campaign finance issues.

Must-reads:

Obama to vie for Arizona as Latino numbers rise” — Helene Cooper, New York Times

Are all politics still local?” — John Sides, New York Times

Newt Gingrich as president could turn the White House into an ideas factory” — David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post

Does Romney have a moderate problem?” — Nate Silver, New York Times

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