* Obama’s reelection challenge, in a nutshell: The President is heading today to northeastern Pennsylvania — a region in a must-win swing state where the blue collar whites he needs to win back have been hit particularly hard by the economy. He will hammer Republicans for refusing to extend the payroll tax cut for workers over their objection to raising taxes on income over $1 million.

Obama’s offensive on the payroll tax cut extension is intended to paint a vivid contrast between the two parties’ priorities by driving home the message that he and Dems are on the side of the middle class, while Republicans are protecting the interests of the rich. But here’s the thing: Polls show that Americans have already accepted this to be the case. The question is: How does Obama leverage this public awareness to win back the struggling voters he needs for reelection?

The problem is that even if the public knows that Republicans are blocking Obama job-creation policies that Americans support — and protecting the rich from higher taxes in the process — Obama may still end up paying the biggest price for government’s failure to fix the economy and alleviate people’s suffering. This quote, coming from a Pennsylvania Democrat and supporter of Obama, captures the dynamic perfectly:

“Enough with the soft approach,” said Corey O’Brien, a Democratic Lackawanna County commissioner and early backer of Mr. Obama. “He’s got to say, ‘I’m in charge, and I’m going to get it done with or without Congress.’ ”
“People are furious,” Mr. O’Brien added. “Everybody here is petrified they are going to lose their jobs tomorrow, and I mean everybody.”

Mr. O’Brien appears to be suggesting that this is a widespread sentiment among Pennsylvanians, and it’s worth entertaining the possiblity that this is right. In a climate of extreme fear and anger over the economy, people may not care why Obama can’t get his policies through. In fairness, Obama has been hammering Congress for weeks and has been passing executive measures via his “we can’t wait” push. Polls suggest Obama and Dems do have the initiative on the economy.

But people want relief, period, full stop. If the guy in charge can’t deliver it, the risk is that people may conclude he’s well intentioned, but too weak or ineffective to get it done. How Obama handles this problem is going to be a key dynamic to watch, particularly today in this key bellwether region.

* Dems going on offensive over supercommittee failure: The politics of the supercommittee’s deadlock will get very interesting today. The DCCC is set to pump robocalls today into the districts of 30 House Republicans, seizing on the supercommittee’s failure — and the GOP’s push for Medicare cuts — in order to revive their attacks on the GOP over entitlements.

A source sends over the audio, and here’s the key part of the script:

The supercommittee failed because Republicans insisted on extending the Bush tax breaks for millionaires and refusing to include a jobs proposal — while ending the Medicare guarantee. That’s something that Democrats stand strongly against. By rejecting a balanced approach, Republicans chose to protect the wealthiest one percent at the expense of seniors and the middle class.

Note the Occupy language. This underscores yet again that Dems are not shying away from basing their 2012 strategy on the public’s rising preoccupation with inequality, and will continue spotlighting the issue to emphasize who is really looking out for the middle class.

* Dems have not squandered Medicare as an issue: Also, Peter Wallsten, who wrote the story linked above, makes this key point:

Such an attack probably would have been difficult had the supercommittee been able to reach an agreement involving cuts to Medicare and Social Security, because Democratic complicity in a deal might have forced a detente on entitlement politics.

Exactly. As many of us have been saying, if Dems agree to substantial Medicare benefits cuts, they risk frittering away their hard-won advantage on an issue that’s helped define the Democratic Party for decades. It may be among the Dems’ best hopes of winning back seniors and independents they lost in 2010.

* Today in Mitt Romney equivocations: Don’t miss this post on Romney’s continuing effort to attack Newt Gingrich over his humane anti-deportation stance, while refusing to say whether he supports deportation.

Romney, clearly, is trying to get to Newt’s right by attacking his sensible stand, but knows that if he substantively disagrees with that sensible stand it will be trouble in a general election.

* Inequality is a winner for Dems: Timothy Noah makes some smart points about Chuck Schumer’s prioritizing of inequality as central to the Dem message in 2012, and notes that the one percent are making the Dems’ jobs a heck of a lot easier for them.

Note Noah’s crucual distinction between addressing inequality by focusing on declining middle class incomes and addressing it by focusing on the runaway income at the top.

* Mitch McConnell protecting the top one percent of “small businesses”: He continues to insist that the GOP opposition to funding the payroll tax cut extension is about protecting small businesses.

But Suzy Khimm does a nice job debunking this GOP talking point. It turns out the tax would only hit one percent of businesses the Treasury Department categorizes that way.

ICYMI: The citizens for Tax Justice found that the surtax would impact 1/500th of Americans, and that they’d pay on average 1/50th of their incomes in additional taxes.

Also: Joan McCarter notes that the “job creators” currently being protected from higher taxes aren’t .... creating jobs.

* What to watch for: McConnell is set to propose an alternate way to pay for the payroll tax cut extension any day now, underscoring two points: First, that Republicans see serious peril in blocking the extension; and second, that they are absolutely adamant that it must not be paid for by a high end tax hike.

* Dems betting the Senate on women: It isn’t just Elizabeth Warren. Josh Kraushaar makes a smart point:

If you want a sign of the gender gap in American politics, look no further than both parties’ Senate recruitment efforts. Democrats have accomplished the rare feat of convincing more women than men to run in leading Senate races next year. Include the six women up for reelection, and it’s the largest crop running for the Senate — ever.

* The incredible shrinking Tea Party, a drag on GOP hopes? Kate Zernike takes a look at recent polls and concludes that the Tea Party, which helped power the big GOP win only a year ago, has now become a decided liability for the party in 2012.

Key takeaway: The Tea Party was nice in theory, but once it got into power, the public got to see how disastrous its ideas are in a real world governing context.

* And Newt-mentum continues apace!!! Real Clear Politics interviews a range of experts and concludes that Herman Cain’s implosion may lead to a coalescing of conservative support around Newt Gingrich as the alternative to Mitt Romney.

One key difference between Gingrich and the other not-Romneys who have all flamed out: Gingrich has been around a long time and is well known among GOP voters, so he may prove more durable.

What else is happening?