President Barack Obama and his allies are aggressively repositioning him as a “pro-business president” in order to win back the independent and swing voters who deserted Democrats in droves in November -- and so far Republicans are frustrated by the fact that polls indicate the charm offensive is working.
Despite a stimulus plan that failed to keep unemployment below 8 percent, a government takeover of GM and near-ritual bashing of Wall Street fat cats, Obama’s allies are now hailing him as a champion of industry.
Earlier this week, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told a National
|President Barack Obama and Jeffrey Immelt
Press Club audience that Obama is “about as pro-business as any president.”
Much to the chagrin of Republicans, the Clinton-esque triangulation strategy appears to be working. A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll shows Obama’s approval rating at 53 percent, up 8 percent from December. It was his strongest showing since the town hall tea party protests began rocking the body politic in the summer of 2009.
“There is already evidence in national polling that President Obama has won back independents -- for now,” The Hill’s associate editor A.B. Stoddard tells Newsmax. “Whether it holds depends on his success in convincing voters he is working tirelessly on job creation.
“You can't legislate jobs, nor can presidents create them, but a consistent effort will bring him credibility on the issue. His outreach to business through his recent hires, the creation of the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness and an executive order calling for a review of all regulations to streamline them and focus them on small-business growth all show a concerted effort is underway,” she adds.
Mark McKinnon, former President George W. Bush’s campaign marketing strategist, tells Newsmax that Obama’s rebounding poll numbers and his shift to the center represent a serious political challenge for Republicans.
“President Obama is making strong moves to the center which are helpful to his re-election prospects,” says McKinnon. “The tax compromise angered the left. Then he appointed [White House Chief of Staff] Bill Daley and [GE CEO] Jeffrey Immelt, which has sent very positive signals to the business community.”
Ironically, the GOP landslide in November has caused a messaging reversal. The administration that fixated on universal healthcare during a spiraling economy is now embracing free-market economics. Its previous policies, its surrogates say, were merely an ad hoc response to an economic emergency and not the product of a big-government agenda. With his major legislative initiatives behind him, Obama is free to focus his message on job creation.
Republicans, meanwhile, find themselves debating what to do about healthcare reform and the budget deficit, while trying to explain to the American people that such policies have to be addressed in order to revive the economy.
The president is expected to use his Tuesday State of the Union message to continue to his reinvention as a champion of the business community, saying his policies have set the U.S. economy on a more globally competitive path for the future.
Most economists are predicting continued, albeit sluggish, economic improvement in the run up to 2012. If so, the president could use the trend to bolster his case for re-election.
The president’s latest moves on the political chess board: Relocating his campaign team out of the Washington bubble to Chicago, and appointing GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt to a presidential advisory board on how to grow jobs.
According to Bloomberg News, Immelt is a Republican who donated to both Hillary Clinton and John McCain in the last presidential election. He did not contribute to Obama’s campaign, however.
Friday, Obama followed up that appointment with a meet-and-greet visit to a GE battery manufacturing plant in Schenectady, N.Y. Standing at Immelt’s side he declared to rousing applause: “America is still home to the most creative and most innovative businesses in the world. We’ve got the most productive workers in the world. America is home to inventors and dreamers and builders and creators.”
Obama also continued to play his new role as fiscal conservative, saying the nation had spent the past decade running up the national debt, a pattern that cannot continue for the nation to remain on fiscally sound footing. And he credited his economic policies with getting the economy back on the path to recovery.
The ongoing embrace of job-creating businesses is just one part of creating Obama 2.0. Other indications the Obama campaign is shifting into high gear: The White House announced Thursday that deputy White House chief of staff Jim Messina will manage his re-election from Chicago, marking the first time in modern political history that a presidential re-election campaign is directed from outside the Beltway area. While some suggest the administration wants to move its political operations away from the intense spotlight of the national media, insiders point out that the move puts the campaign’s center of gravity much closer to many of the swing states expected to determine the election’s outcome, including Ohio, Wisconsin and Missouri.
Also Thursday, the White House closed down its West Wing office of political affairs, transferring its director, Patrick Gaspard, to the Democratic National Committee, where he will run its political operations.
The White House said it was making the move to streamline its lines of communication. But The New York Times suggested a less innocent reason for relocating political operations outside the White House: It’s harder to hit a moving target.
Moving Gaspard out of the White House and over to the Democratic National Committee, it reports, “could reduce the likelihood that it will become a target of an investigation by the Republican-led House Oversight Committee.” GOP leaders have expressed concern about an undue political influence on administration policies, including patronage and favoritism toward organized labor.
Now the question becomes how long the president’s comeback in the polls will last, as Republicans and Democrats begin to wrangle over the politically charged issue of how to reduce the deficit. It’s an important question, because political scientists say an incumbent president’s performance on Election Day tends to closely mirror his standing in job-approval polls.
Obama’s team expects more good poll numbers in coming weeks – presidents typically enjoy short-term bounces in popularity following their state of the union addresses.
Political analyst Charlie Cook remarked Friday on the president’s surge in the polls, telling MSNBC’s Andrea Kramer: “The thing is people like success, and they see things happening, they see things moving. I think it’s encouraging news for the president. He’s trying to be different, and it seems to be working.”
But ultimately, Obama’s political fate is likely to be closely linked to the overall course of the economy and unemployment.
“The key on the employment picture is that voters don't need to think it is better,” McKinnon says. “They just need to believe it's going to get better. If voters sense that the economy is heading in the right direction they won't want to change horses.”
He adds: “I think Obama's current bump in the polls might sustain for awhile barring any bad economic news or external events.
Despite the recent comeback, a closer look at the polls suggests Obama could still be in trouble politically, pundits say.
Matthew Dowd, the chief strategist for the Bush-Cheney re-election effort in 2004, told “Daily Rundown” hosts Chuck Todd and Savannah Guthrie on Friday that Obama “is still in that place where … you have a hard time judging whether he’s going to get re-elected.
“I think the White House understands it, they know his approval rating, and right now it’s tied totally to the issue of jobs and the economy,” he said.
“He must keep it up,” says Stoddard. “The performance of the GOP majority in the House, and how President Obama works with Republican leaders on budget and tax reform and spending cuts, will also determine the direction of independents in the next 18 months.”
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