U.S. President Barack Obama pumps air pressure into Extreme Marshmallow Cannon designed by Joey Hudy (L) of Phoenix, Arizona, before firing a marshmallow across the State Dining Room of the White House during the second White House Science Fair in Washington February 7, 2012. (KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
Dana Milbank
Opinion writer February 7, 2012

It’s nine months until Election Day, but President Obama is already bringing out the big guns.

Specifically, he is shouldering the Extreme Marshmallow Cannon.

Dana Milbank writes about political theater in the nation’s capital. He joined the Post as a political reporter in 2000. View Archive

Obama walked into the State Dining Room at midday Tuesday and encountered 14-year-old Joe Hudy and the compressed-air cannon he invented to launch marshmallows as part of a science fair.

“The Secret Service is going to be mad at me about this,” the president said, but he didn’t care. He asked Hudy to hand over the gun, told onlookers to step aside, pumped up the compressor — and shot a confection across the room Thomas Jefferson used as his office. Under the watchful gaze of an Abraham Lincoln portrait, the projectile narrowly missed a window and smacked into a wall near the entrance to the Red Room.

Minutes later, the commander in chief went downstairs to the East Room to report on his marksmanship, telling the assembled TV cameras that he “shot a marshmallow through an air gun, which was very exciting.”

It was so exciting that White House press secretary Jay Carney led off Tuesday afternoon’s briefing with more talk of the Extreme Marshmallow Cannon, suggesting that he would like to arm himself with one on the podium. “I hope you enjoyed the science fair,” he said. “The president sure did.” Carney then moved on to discuss “another moment of the president’s day that the president enjoyed” — chatting with the New York Giants head coach.

Obama suddenly seems to be enjoying himself quite a bit, and no wonder: He just might be the luckiest man alive.

At the last possible moment to save his reelection, the economy is beginning to hum, as evidenced by Friday’s jobs report. And Obama’s Republican opponents are shaping up to be as formidable as, well, marshmallows. While Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are making each other unelectable, the president is singing Al Green, congratulating Super Bowl winners, playing with science projects, raising obscene amounts of campaign cash and watching his poll numbers soar.

According to historical patterns, the high unemployment rate and slow economic growth should combine to doom Obama. But historical patterns do not take into account an opponent who says he enjoys firing people. This week’s Washington Post-ABC News poll showed Obama with a nine-point lead over Romney and a 15-point lead over Gingrich. And political handicapper Charlie Cook wrote Tuesday about a fundamental shift in Obama’s prospects, as the GOP position retreats from “cautiously optimistic” to “uncertainty.”

In politics, it’s better to be lucky than good, and Obama has come into an unexpectedly large quantity of luck. Five straight monthly drops in the unemployment rate have boosted consumer confidence and stock markets.

And, while Obama does nothing more than sit and watch, his opponents are alienating the electorate. Conservative blogger Erick Erickson summed upthe disenchantment this week when he said that he would rather have the “sweet meteor of death than any of the candidates left in the race.” Santorum’s unexpected revival in Tuesday’s primaries — essentially a protest vote — indicates that Erickson has plenty of company.

While Romney embraces the birther billionaire Donald Trump, he has ceded to Obama the political center. The day after Romney indelicately announced that he was “not concerned about the very poor,” Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast about his affection for the Rev. Billy Graham and about “the biblical call to care for the least of these — for the poor; for those at the margins of our society.”

The run of luck has left Obama in buoyant spirits, which were on display in the White House on Tuesday. Leaving aside the crisis in Syria and a dispute with the Catholic bishops, he lingered at the science fair to talk to the teen inventors and try their toys, including a robot made from a trash can (“I’m trying to figure out how you got through the metal detectors,” Obama commented) and sugar packets made from dissolving packaging (“Tell me when I can buy stock,” the president said).

He turned to three girls from Texas who had built rockets, including one with a cherry-blossom design. “This is not a tough-looking rocket,” the president said, “with the flowers and birds and stuff. . . . You just don’t usually see rockets this pretty.”

The president then recounted for the girls his own experiment of dropping eggs with Sasha from the Truman Balcony. “I’m hip to the whole egg thing,” he said, before agreeing to the girls’ request for a group hug.

For a man who has until recently been focused on his own survival, it’s a newfound luxury to spend quality time with robots and marshmallows. “I’ve got to say,” a grinning Obama said, “this is fun.”

danamilbank@washpost.com