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Posted at 8:24 AM ET, 01/28/2011

A bipartisan comeback ... and its prognosis

By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza

President Obama isn't the only one getting a boost in his image.

Just weeks after assuming a new majority in the House, the Republican Party is also making a comeback in the polls. And according to Gallup, for the first time in five years, more people have a positive opinion of the GOP than a negative one.

Gallup shows 47 percent have a favorable opinion of the GOP, versus 43 percent who have an unfavorable one. As recently as 2009, 60 percent of the American people viewed the Republican Party unfavorably. So it's a significant shift.

So what gives?

Lots of oxygen has been spent in recent months talking about Republicans' strategy of standing resolutely against Democratic priorities over the last two years, and how it helped the GOP in 2010.

Through it all, though, the GOP's numbers were suffering just as much as, if not more than, Obama's. And the Republican Party, in the midst of its big comeback, was often -- and inexplicably -- more unpopular than the Democratic Party.

GOP pollster Glen Bolger credits increasing optimism on the part of the American public and points to the reelection years of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, when the presidents saw their numbers rise but their parties didn't reap big benefits at the congressional level.

People were generally happy with the status quo, and everyone benefited.

"The president's numbers have improved because people are more optimistic about the next year," Bolger said. "That will have a similar impact on Republican officeholders in Washington too."

We talked recently in this space about how rising optimism led to Obama's rising approval rating. The rise in both Obama's and the Republican's numbers also happened to come after a lame duck session in which they combined for some real bipartisan compromises.

Those compromises undoubtedly helped both sides gain in the polls. The question for the GOP is whether it's content to have an election cycle in which everybody wins, so to speak. After all, the Reagan and Clinton examples both featured an incumbent president winning reelection -- an outcome the GOP does not want in 2012.

Do Republicans try to be more bipartisan and risk making Obama bulletproof in 2012? Or do they keep being the "party of no" and try to create a second-straight referendum on the Democratic Party?

It might not really be a decision at all. A lot of a Congress's and a president's approval ratings have to do with the perception of the economy. If things get better, it's going to be harder for Republicans to keep blocking everything and blaming the Democrats. If they don't, that strategy may continue to work.

For now, it's going to be an interesting dance for the GOP. And it will be interesting to see if perceptions of Obama and the GOP continue to rise in tandem.

Pence is out, who benefits?: The Fix reported Thursday that Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) would forgo a presidential bid but appears likely to run for governor. Pence became the first candidate to dip his toe in the presidential waters and then categorically rule out a run.

Pence, though potentially formidable in his own right, was not expected to be a game-changer in the race. Therefore, his exit doesn't shift things around too much. But its does do a couple things.

One: It makes it easier for Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels to run. It's not easy for two politicians from the same state to run for president.

Two: It opens the door for a candidate to successfully span the social conservative and fiscal conservative wings of the party. That was really Pence's calling card, and there will be a competition to see who can please both of them. Some possible gap-fillers: Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty.

And three: It could effectively end the Indiana governor's race. Pence would be a heavy, heavy favorite, though he may still draw a strong challenge from someone like Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), since Donnelly could very well get drawn out of his congressional district.

AFF runs ads against Ben Nelson: Hoping to duplicate its recent success in North Dakota, the American Future Fund is going up with a radio ad against Sen Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).

The ad goes after Nelson -- hard and in detail -- for his vote for the Democratic health care bill, making mention of the so-called "Cornhusker Kickback." It's technically an issue-advocacy ad, urging Nelson to support repeal.

The ad will run for a week and is statewide. No word on the size of the buy.

This is the second Democratic senator that AFF has run an ad against since the November election. AFF previously ran ads against Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), prior to his announcement that he would not seek reelection.

Fixbits

An effort to draft Daniels into the 2012 GOP presidential race is running ads ... in Iowa.

Mitt Romney will end his conspicuous absence from New Hampshire politics by taking some private meetings with key Granite State activists next week.

Three of the four votes against ending the practice of secret holds in the Senate came from members of the Tea Party Caucus -- Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), Jim DeMint (S.C.) and Mike Lee (Utah).

The filibuster is intact, after an effort to get rid of it was thwarted Thursday.

Former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie says Republicans might not be prepared for the upcoming redistricting battle.

"The Genesis Code" premiers in New Hampshire tonight, with a speaking slate that includes former GOP Senate candidate Ovide Lamontagne. The screening is hosted by Cornerstone Action.

Basketball legend Charles Barkley says he is shelving his long-held intention to run for Alabama governor, calling politics "bad business."

Must-reads

"A big warning sign for Mitt Romney" -- Jonathan Martin, Politico

"Pence out, Republican presidential field open" -- Daniel Foster, National Review

"Better off bankrupt: States should have the option of bankruptcy protection to deal with their budget crises" -- Gingrich and former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R), Los Angeles Times

"TeaPartyHD fills in gaps that mainstream media might ignore" -- Monica Hesse, Washington Post

By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza  | January 28, 2011; 8:24 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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