The political scientists tell us that one key way to gauge an incumbent’s chances amid a bad economy is to look at political attitudes about the direction of the economy, rather than at what people think of its current state. While the political environment facing the president remains exceptionally challenging, we now have three national polls showing an uptick in optimism about the long-term economic forecast.

The new NBC/WSJ poll finds that more think the economy will get better than think it will get worse, 37-17, the most since January 2011. There’s been a net swing of 12 points since last month towards the idea that the economy will improve rather than worsen. Obama’s approval on the economy is at 45-50, the highest since last April. Here there’s been a net swing of 13 points since last month — a period during which we saw a better-than-expected jobs report, a slight drop in unemployment, and a victory for the president over the payroll tax cut extension.

MSNBC’s polling analysis puts it this way: “Americans are growing more optimistic about the state of the economy and direction of the country,” and “Obama is receiving better grades on his handling of the economy and job as a result.”

This follows a recent Gallup finding that its “economic confidence” index is at its best since last May, and a recent Post poll that found an 18-point net swing in favor of the idea that the economy is improving.

This isn’t to say that Obama doesn’t face severe challenges or that the public’s sense of an improving economy can’t dip again. But for now, there seems to be a thaw in public pessimism under way, which, if it continues, could help Obama’s reelection. As Jonathan Bernstein noted recently: “When it comes to economic indicators and presidential elections, the evidence is strong that what matters are election year trends — the public’s sense of which way the economy is moving — not overall four-year performances or even absolute levels of economic strength.”

* Obama advisers speak about his reelection challenges: Relatedly, some must-reading from Dan Balz, who perfectly captures the challenge Obama faces:

Continuing economic uncertainties, general unrest among the electorate, frustration with the pace of the recovery and the reluctance of independent voters to embrace the president constitute the stiff head winds that Obama and his team are facing. The gap between what the president promised and the expectations he created in 2008 and his record of delivering will be at the heart of the Republican argument that he does not deserve a second term.

...and Obama advisers’s view of Romney’s vulnerabilities

They argue that, at a time when many Americans see economic and political systems that appear to be stacked against them, Romney’s decision to base his campaign message on his work at a private equity firm could be a major mistake. What Obama’s advisers say they did not anticipate was the degree to which Romney would compound that vulnerability through missteps.

As I’ve noted here, the Dems’ basic assumption is that there’s been a fundamental shift in the electorate’s views of the economy — voters now think it’s rigged for the rich and against the middle class in some very basic ways, and Dems will try to paint Romney as the poster child of all of them.

* Another Bain layoff victim to speak out: The DNC is rolling out another one in Florida today. After an event, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz will introduce her:

In Miami Cindy Hewitt will tell her story about Mitt Romney’s style of free enterprise. Cindy Hewitt is a Miami resident who served as a human resources manager at Dade Behring before Romney’s Bain drove the company into the ground. While at Bain, Romney invested in Dade Behring, a profitable medical-equipment company – then he ran it into the ground, and caused 850 workers in Miami to lose their jobs

It’ss part of a determined Dem effort to tie Romney’s corporate past — the enormous profits he made off of restructrings that included mass layoffs — to the current debate over his low tax rate and refusal to release more than one year of tax returns.

* Obama and Romney deadlocked in Florida: The new Quinnipiac poll finds that Obama and Romney are tied in Florida with 45 percent each, while Obama enjoys a 50-39 lead over Gingrich.

Romney bests Obama on the economy, 50-41, but Floridians see Obama as more inspiring (54-39), think he would do better in a crisis (50-43) and think he cares more about them (48-42). The question is whether increasing public optimism will put a dent in Romney’s advantage on the economy.

* Romney campaign portraying Gingrich as emotionally unstable: The New York Times talks to Romney advisers and gets this about Romney’s strategic shift in the face of the Gingrich surge: “Mr. Romney is now fully participating in his campaign’s efforts to attack Mr. Gingrich’s morals and raise doubts about his emotional stability.”

That explains the line you hear over and over again from the Romney camp — that Gingrich is an “unreliable leader.” One imagines that this will only fuel Gingrich’s increasingly personal campaign to contest this race down to the bitter end.

* GOP candidates headed for disputed Florida recount? With polls showing a razor close race, GOP officials are bracing for a major dispute over the winner-take-all delegate apportionment and even possibly a recount, with unforeseen consequences for the GOP race.

* Romney will face troubles with Latino voters: This topic is undercovered, but Reid Wilson does it some justice, pointing out that Romney’s “aggressive” rhetoric about illegal immigration will make it tough for Republicans to turn around their slide with Latino voters. Key nugget:

If GOP rhetoric continues to drive Hispanic voters into the Democratic fold, some Republicans believe they could end up as solidly in the Democratic camp as African-Americans. Given the booming growth rate among Hispanics, that prospect keeps some party strategists up at night.

The Latino vote could be even more important this time, because it may be key to Obama’s ability to hold on to western states he won in 2008, in order to offset expected losses in the Rust Belt.

* Obama discovers his inner economic nationalist: A nice Harold Meyerson column on Obama’s new emphasis on economic nationalism and reviving manufacturing, and their limits when it comes to rebuilding the great American middle class.

* And what that confrontation with Jan Brewer was about: Obama’s dust-up with the Arizona governor on the tarmac yesterday — which has fired up conservatives — was rooted in the President’s belief that her book falsely claims that he lectured her and was condescending at a private White House meeting.

Apparently getting into angry public confrontations with the president gets you lots of positive attention from the national right.

What else?