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Posted at 7:44 AM ET, 03/ 9/2011

President Obama and the leveling effect

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake

Screen shot 2011-03-08 at 9.23.44 PM.png

Six months ago, President Obama was being discussed as a one-term president as his party careened to a historic midterm election defeat.

Two months ago, President Obama had gotten his political groove back, scoring a series of wins -- a tax cut compromise, the passage of the new START nuclear treaty -- in the lame duck congressional session.

Today, President Obama finds himself right back to where he was in the aftermath of the 2010 election, according to a new weekly Gallup tracking poll that showed 46 percent of Americans approving of the job is doing. That is his lowest weekly average approval rating in Gallup numbers since mid-December.

The natural conclusion? Obama is losing momentum, waylaid by outside forces like the Egyptian uprising and the ongoing conflict and Libya -- twin events that have helped spike gas prices here at home.

But, just as the "Obama surging" headline was overblown as Obama crested 50 percent twice in Gallup's weekly approval numbers in January, so too is the idea that these latest numbers are indicative of any long-term downward trend for the President.

In fact, a look back at Obama's standing on the Gallup question over the past year suggests that the most recent results represent a leveling effect of sorts -- a return to the norm rather than some sort of larger-scale downtick.

Take a look at Gallup's large trend chart on Obama's approval ratings dating back to July 2009.

Screen shot 2011-03-08 at 9.59.24 PM.png

From July 2010 through January 2011, Obama's approval ratings ranged between 43 percent and 48 percent in nearly every weekly Gallup tracker. Most weeks, it sat at either 46 percent or 47 percent -- exactly where it is in the latest weekly numbers.

The consistency of those numbers suggests that public opinion is largely settled when it comes to Obama and is likely to stay within that established range -- at least in the near term.

Of course, a strengthening economy (or a weakening one) could well force a re-examination by Americans of how they view the job the president is doing. But, that is a far longer-term reshaping of public opinion rather than a short-term boom or bust.

Be wary then of reading too much into the weekly job approval numbers. Views of Obama are remarkably consistent and it will take months -- if not years -- for them to change in a fundamental way.

Gibbs won't seek DNC chairmanship: Former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs tells CNN's Ed Henry that he won't seek to replace Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine if Kaine runs for Senate in Virginia.

"I had an opportunity to do that when my name got floated six months ago," Gibbs said. "I am not going to run the DNC."

Kaine is expected to make his decision in the coming days. He's seen as Democrats' best hope now that Sen. Jim Webb (D) is retiring. But it's not clear yet whether he will run.

Other potential contenders for the top DNC post, should Kaine run for Senate, would be former Ohio governor Ted Strickland, former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Democratic consultant Donna Brazile and Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

GOP poll finds support for spending cuts: Resurgent Republic, a conservative non-profit founded by pollster Whit Ayres and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, released a poll Tuesday showing that voters care about cutting spending even when told it will mean "slashing" important programs.

A majority is, however, still responsive to the argument that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid should be off-limits when it comes to spending cuts. House Speaker John Boehner recently moved toward making cutes to these programs, which account for much of the federal government's expenses.

Voters in the survey were split on "government employee unions" (similar to Pew Research polling), but independents sided with Republicans against them.

DSCC goes after 'paper tiger' Heller: The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is targeting Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) in a memo, saying he faces "an uphill battle in this blue-trending state" if he runs for Senate.

Heller hasn't officially announced his candidacy, but he is widely expected to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. John Ensign (R). Ensign announced Monday that he would not seek another term.

Democrats point out that Heller won his congressional seat by small margins in 2006 and 2008 and that Obama won the state by 13 percent in the latter year.

Their polling finds his name recognition is weak outside his own district. Other polling from the Democratic-leaning automated pollster Public Policy Polling finds Heller with a lead over any of the Democrats considered frontrunners.

(Left unmentioned: In the Republican wave of 2010, Heller dominated Democrat Nancy Price nearly two-to-one. But she was barely known and politically inexperienced.)

Democrats mentioned as potential candidates include Rep. Shelly Berkley.

"A strong Democrat on the ballot with ample resources (in a) Presidential year turnout adds-up to extremely challenging math for Dean Heller in 2012," the memo concludes.


Former Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) reiterates that he will not challenge Sen. Scott Brown (R) in 2012

Sarah Palin is delivering a speech in Colorado the same day as a May presidential debate in California. Seems the debate isn't exactly in her plans. So, is running for president in her plans?

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) says she will decide on a presidential bid by early this summer.

Former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) is calling for "limited strikes" in Libya.

Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings says he was recruited by Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to run against Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) in 2004. And he wasn't impressed. "Win on a game show and you can apparently run for the U.S. Senate," Jennings said. "That was when I realized the Democratic Party was f***ed in '04."


"Why I'd Place My Bet on Tim Pawlenty" -- Jonathan Chait, New Republican

"Why Mitt Romney is still the favorite" -- Steve Kornacki, Salon

"White House moving to repair troubled relationship with Cabinet" -- Anne E. Kornblut, Washington Post

"Budget vote poses political risk for senators" -- Lisa Mascaro and Kathleen Hennessy, Los Angeles Times

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake  | March 9, 2011; 7:44 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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