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Posted at 8:03 AM ET, 02/ 7/2011

Is the GOP nomination worth having in 2012?

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake

In the wake of a 2010 midterm election that amounted to an across-the-board -- or close to it -- drubbing of Democrats, there were dire predictions for President Obama's chances of reelection in 2012.

Fast forward three months, however, and the president's approval ratings are up, the unemployment rate is down and Democrats are feeling a whole lot more confident about Obama's chances of keeping hold of the White House next November.

Which prompts the question: Is the Republican presidential nomination worth having?

Yes, argues Republican pollster Ed Goeas in a memo entitled, fittingly: "A Nomination Worth Something". (Goeas is a longtime adviser to Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who is considering a run for president in 2012.)

Goeas makes a two-part argument -- first that Obama remains politically weakened and second that the size and fluidity of the GOP field is a strength, not a hindrance.

While acknowledging that Obama has made gains since the election, Goeas notes that the president's disapproval rating remains above 40 percent and that "those who strongly disapprove of the president remains at a 1.3-to-1 ratio to those who strongly approve of his job performance."

Goeas also argues that disapproval is likely to remain strong due to unemployment rates that are "approximately 1.7 times higher" than the historical average since 1948.

On the Republican side, Goeas believes that while the 2012 field is likely to feature 10 or more candidates, the underlying political environment makes the race far more winnable than in 2008.

He acknowledges, however, that "resources will be limited" for the candidates and that the "uncertain primary calendar only adds to concerns about a long and expensive struggle."

Is Goeas right? Maybe.

A look back at the last incumbent president to lose his bid for a second term suggests that it may be too early to make such broad pronouncements, however.

At this point in 1991, President George H.W. Bush was at 79 percent approval (the country had gone to war against Iraq two weeks earlier)

Those stratospheric numbers kept some of the biggest-name Democrats -- Mario Cuomo, anyone? -- out of the Democratic race and allowed a Southern governor named Bill Clinton to emerge as the nominee against a incumbent president whose approval rating stood at just 33 percent in October 1992. (For you non-math majors out there, that's a 46-point collapse in under 18 months.)

Put simply: Political circumstances can change -- and quickly.

The rollercoaster nature of the political world over the last six years -- three straight national wave elections -- suggests that the pace of change is picking up, not slowing down.

That velocity suggests that Obama's political fortunes -- and those of the eventual Republican nominee -- could, and almost certainly will, rise and fall multiple times between now and November 2012.

And uncertainty means opportunity -- for Republican candidates and the President alike.

Obama to O'Reilly: I'm not left-wing: In a high-profile interview Sunday with Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly at the White House, Obama said he rejects the notion that he is a liberal president who wants to redistribute wealth.

O'Reilly confronted Obama with an editorial from the Wall Street Journal that said the president wants to redistribute wealth. Obama said that he "absolutely" denies the characterization.

"I didn't raise taxes once; I lowered taxes," Obama said, also arguing that providing universal health care coverage is not a radical proposal.

"The Wall Street Journal would probably paint you as a pretty left-wing guy," Obama told O'Reilly.

Rehberg officially in for Senate: Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) made his candidacy for Senate official on Saturday, saying he is running against Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) because Tester has been a regular vote for Democrats.

"The truth is that Jon Tester has been a reliable 'yes man' for Barack Obama and Harry Reid -- and he's voted for the Obama administration 97 percent of the time," Rehberg told a local Lincoln Day/Reagan Day Dinner.

Mourdock confirms he will run against Lugar: Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock confirmed this weekend what has become pretty apparent -- he will run in a primary against Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.).

Mourdock acknowledged his plans in appearances both Friday night and Saturday morning.

The Fix reported earlier Friday that Mourdock would officially launch his campaign Feb. 22.

Jankowski to take over at RSLC: The Republican State Leadership Committee is set to announce today that Chris Jankowski will be assuming the position of president.

Jankowski previously served as executive director of the RSLC's Redistricting Majority Program. The committee leads GOP efforts in non-federal races, and it turned in a huge performance in 2010 that will give it lots of control over redistricting.

The RSLC will also announce that former Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum and former Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins will serve on its board.

Former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie remains as chairman of the RSLC.

Questions mount for Rivera: Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.) is facing even more questions about his financial dealings.

Last fall, the Miami-Dade County Republican party paid $150,000 to a political consultant with close ties to their then-chairman, Rivera. It was the party's biggest expense in six years, but it has no detailed records of what it was for.

Rivera is already in hot water for failing to disclose $137,000 in loans from a company co-owned by his mother and $60,000 in unexplained reimbursements to himself from his campaign account.

Fixbits

The Illinois Republican Party plans to hold a presidential straw poll on Nov. 5.

Reps. Charles Boustany (R-La.) and Jeff Landry (R-La.) disagree about whether Louisiana should have one coastal district or two after redistricting. The two men could be pitted against each other, with the state losing a district.

Must-reads

"Ben Nelson appears ready to make his case" -- Don Walton, Lincoln Journal Star

"Haley's money machine" -- Andy Barr and Zacahary Abrahamson, Politico

"Koch brothers now at heart of GOP power" -- Tom Hamburger, Kathleen Hennessy and Neela Banerjee

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake  | February 7, 2011; 8:03 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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