If there are reasons for President Obama to be optimistic about his reelection chances, one of them has to be this: The two key dynamics driving our politics right now are both playing in his favor. First, economic optimism continues to rise. Second, the GOP primary seems to have left likely nominee Mitt Romney with historically low standing.
The new NBC/WSJ poll finds that Obama has hit the 50 percent approval mark — his highest since Bin Laden’s death. That’s apparently driven by these findings about the economy:
Forty percent believe the economy will improve during the next year, a three-point increase from January. And looking back at the economic recession, 57 percent say that the worst is behind us, while 36 percent say the worst is still to come.
Meanwhile, Romney’s favorable rating is worse than most recent candidates who ultimately won their party’s nomination. It’s upside down at 28-39, and even worse among independents, 22-38.
Obama leads Romney by six points among overall Americans, 50-44; among independents 46-39; and among women 55-37. This gender gap may be exacerbated by the GOP’s positions and rhetoric in the birth control wars — another sign that the primary has forced Romney to embrace positions that could alienate key swing constituencies.
The two overall dynamics laid out above are related. As Dem pollster Peter Hart explained the other day, the improving economy — when combined with more information becoming known about Romney — leads swing voters to begin seeing the election as a choice between the two men, rather than a referendum on Obama’s economic performance.
Romney will have another chance to introduce himself to key constituences on more favorable terms once he’s the nominee. For this reason, the head-to-head matchups don’t necessarily mean too much at this stage. But Romney’s favorables among independents have to be worrisome to Republicans. And the two most important metrics — Obama’s approval rating and perceptions of the direction of the economy — are trending the President’s way.
* More signs the economy is turning around: Steven Pearlstein brings us the good (for most of us, anyway) news:
The data points for this optimism are to be found in recent reports on private payrolls (averaging just under 200,000 jobs per month for the past year), gross domestic product (growing at an annual rate of 3 percent), consumer confidence (as high as its been since 2008) and income (up 5 percent in the past year before adjusting for inflation).
On Wall Street, the Dow is at its highest point in nearly four years and Nasdaq at its highest point in a decade, reflecting both record profits and renewed investor confidence.
* Romney edging into lead in Ohio? The final polls are in: The robo-firm Public Policy Polling finds that Romney has edged into a statistically insignificant lead over Santorum among likely GOP primary voters, 37-36. He’s leading 40-28 among those who have decided within the last week, suggesting he has the momentum.
Nate Silver runs the numbers and finds Romney on track to win a majority of the delegates tomorrow. If Romney takes Ohio and wins decisively on Super Tuesday, the press and leading GOP officials will likely crown him the unofficial nominee, and even if the degelate battle will drag on, things will begin feeling more like we’ve entered general election mode.
* Will establishment finally anoint Romney? There are signs that the establishment is finally beginning to coalesce around him, and the thing to watch is whether tomorrow’s results accelerate that process.
* Romney’s problem in the south: If there’s anything that can complicate Romney’s quest for a big win tomorrow, it’s this: “In Georgia, Tennessee and Oklahoma, which cast ballots on Super Tuesday, Christian evangelicals are likely to make up a majority of voters.”
* Romney got auto-bailout completely wrong, ctd.: The federal judge who oversaw Chrysler’s bankruptcy tells ABC News that the company would not have survived without the government — yup, government — loan. Key quote: “One thing is clear, without government support in one fashion or another, there were no sources of funding.”
It keeps getting lost in the discussion, but Romney predicted that the auto companies would disappear if they got that Big Government Bailout. In fact, the opposite turned out to be true.
* Dems to push for early fight over tax hikes on rich: Dem messaging chief Chuck Schumer says Dems may stage a high profile fight over ending the Bush tax cuts for the rich well in advance of the elections. It’s a sign that they are proceeding from the assumption (somewhat uncharacteristically for some Dems) that they hold the political upper hand in this fight and that it could also drive the Congressional elections in their favor.
* More austerity imperils the recovery: As Paul Krugman notes, you should not prematurely celebrate the recovery because it is still at risk, with stimulus spending fading out and deep cuts to government continuing at the state and local levels.
Key takeaway: Conservatives complaining about our continued slide into socialism are in many ways currently getting their way in terms of austerity/economic policy, which is why the recovery is anything but certain.
* Limbaugh’s “slut” mess grows worse: As a seventh advertiser abandons Rush over his “slut” comments, Dems and liberal groups vow to keep up the pressure, and it seems clear that this time things are different: Rush’s opponents won’t let up and more advertisers are likely to follow.
As Paul Farhi asks: “Did Rush Limbaugh just have his Don Imus moment?”
* Right-wing birth control talking point goes “poof”: Jonathan Cohn knocks down one of the sillier right wing talking points making the rounds: That any woman at all can get birth control for $9 per month
* And a special bonus debunking of another right-wing talking point: Like Steve Benen, I find it puzzling that right wingers are simultaneously arguing that Obama is politically vulnerable on rising gas prices and that he’s trying to drive them up on purpose.