Most economists think the recovery is accelerating, and that it’s real. Yet in the new Post/ABC News poll, Obama’s approval numbers are dropping. It’s the first clear sign that rising gas prices could imperil his reelection chances — by imposing additional hardship on struggling voters otherwise inclined to believe the economy is improving.

The poll finds that Obama’s overall approval is down to 46-50; his approval on the economy is upside down at 38-59. After gains among independents and downscale whites, the new poll finds disapproval among them running high, at 57 percent and 66 percent. After leading Mitt Romney, Obama is now statistically tied with him, 47-49.

And yet the poll also finds that public optimisim about the economy is rising. A 49 percent plurality say they’re optimistic about the state of the economy, up from 44-52 at the end of last year; two-thirds, 66 percent, are optimistic about their own families’ financial situation. The public is evenly split, 49-49, on whether their personal experiences indicate the economy is recovering — up significantly since January.

Do gas prices explain the disparity? Eighty-nine percent say they’re concerned about them; 63 pecent say gas prices have caused them financial hardship. Respondents say by 50-45 that there’s something the Obama administration can do to reduce gas prices. Obama’s approval on the issue is at an abysmal 26-65.

In all these findings you see two major GOP attack lines converging. By relentlessly blaming Obama for the financial hardships rising gas prices are imposing on swing voters, Republicans are trying to make them less willing to credit Obama for the recovery, perhaps leaving them more receptive to the other GOP argument — that the economy is only improving in spite of Obama’s policies, and not because of them.

* Dems making gains on women’s issues: One bright spot in the Post poll: Dems are trouncing the GOP on the question of which party cares more about issues important to women, 55-30.

Sixty-one percent say insurance companies should be required to cover birth control (support declines when the question refers to religious institutions, though it’s still a plurality, 49-46).

* Dems to hit Romney over Paul Ryan Medicare plan: DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz will hold a presser today to hammer Romney over his full support for the Ryan plan.

Dems hope Romney’s need to embrace unpopular positions to get through the GOP primary will damage him among key general election swing consistuencies — another reason Dems really want the GOP primary to drag on as long as possible.

* Too close to call in Alabama in Mississippi: The robo-firm Public Policy Polling finds that both of tomorrow’s contests are three-way statistical dead heats. If Romney wins either one or both Deep South contests, he could end the nomination battle sooner than expected; if he loses both, it could drag on deep into June.

Romney continues to benefit from the fact that he’s never had to go head-to-head with one conservative challenger, making it possible for him to be nominated despite lackluster support from key GOP constituencies.

* Can big unions go head to head with Super PACs? Steven Greenhouse talks to labor leaders about their plans to counter massive ad spending from the right with a huge grassroots mobilization effort this fall. The move could be key to limiting Rust Belt losses among blue collar whites, and indicates that despite earlier hints of a schism, labor is fully behind Obama and Dems this year.

* Is the recovery real? James Suroweicki marshals all the evidence showing that this time around we aren’t looking at a false spring.

* But Obama’s former economic adviser advises caution: Austan Goolsbee tells ABC News that it’s still quite possible that growth could slow and that unemployment could spike before the election.

I’ll say it again: Dems need to be prepared for the absolute worst.

* Reassessing Obama’s strategy for dealing with GOP: Kevin Drum lists Obama’s accomplishments and says it’s time to reevaluate the liberal myth that Obama’s conciliatory quest for bipartisanship was folly:

Was there a more effective way to deal with an unprecedentedly obstructive Republican Party? On reflection, I doubt it. During Obama’s first two years, Democrats had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate for only 14 weeks. This means that Obama needed two or three Republican votes for every bill, and if he had taken the blustering, partisan attitude that a lot of liberals wanted, he never would had gotten them. Republican obstructionism would have been even more hardened than it was with his more conciliatory attitude. So as annoying as Obama’s “most reasonable man in the room” act was to the progressive base, it was probably his best strategy.

* Question of the day: Paul Krugman asks a good one: Is there anything that today’s GOP can do to make moderate conservative intellectuals admit that the party of Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santorum no longer offers them a home?

* And a sendoff for the weird and wacky Dennis Kucinich: Glenn Greenwald offers a splendid takedown of the snide attacks on Kucinich coming from Dems and left-leaning outlets, and explains what they really tell us about the state of the Democratic establishment.

What else?