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First thoughts: A tale of two parties

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** A tale of two parties: To paraphrase Dickens, the last six weeks have been the best of times for Obama and the Democrats, and the worst of times for the Republicans. Just consider the latest findings from our NBC/WSJ poll: Obama's favorability rating is at 68% (an all-time high in our survey), 67% say they feel more hopeful about his leadership, 60% approve of his job in the White House, and 49% have a positive view of the Democratic Party (which is also near a high). On the other hand, just 26% view the GOP positively (an all-time low in the poll), respondents blame Bush and congressional Republicans for most of the partisanship in DC, 56% think the GOP's opposition to Obama is based on politics, and Republicans lose by nearly 30 percentage points on the question about which party would do a better job of leading the country out of recession. While we have covered all the new administration's ups and downs, it is absolutely clear which party has suffered the most in public opinion these first six weeks: the GOP. NBC/WSJ co-pollster Peter Hart (D) says Republicans "have been tone deaf to the results of the 2008 election… They never heard the message. They continue to preach the old-time religion." Adds co-pollster Bill McInturff (R), "These are difficult and problematic numbers."

Video: Chuck Todd discusses the latest poll results and how Americans view Obama and the economy.

*** Obama's long leash: Ironically, Obama's high marks come at a time when Americans are increasingly pessimistic about the state of the economy. Only 7% say they're satisfied about the economy, which is an all-time low in the poll. Moreover, 76% believe the economy still has a ways to go before it hits rock bottom. What's going on here? The public doesn't blame Obama for the economy -- even as critics try to attribute the Dow's decline to Obama, and also even as Obama yesterday gave stock advice (!!!). Per the poll, 84% say Obama inherited this economy, and two-thirds of those people think he has at least a year before he's responsible for it. "That's a long leash," McInturff says. "It normally doesn't last that long. But believe me, that's a good place to start." But McInturff warns that while these numbers suggest a patient public, "Americans are notoriously impatient people." So how long does the honeymoon last if the economy doesn't get better?

*** Mind the gap: Another concern for Team Obama in the poll is that there's a sizable gap between the president's personal popularity and the popularity of his policies. While his favorability rating is 68% and his job approval is 60%, a slightly smaller percentage -- 54% -- say that Obama has the right policies and goals for the country. Per Hart, that 54% gives us a good idea where Obama's standing might be after his honeymoon is over. Another striking finding in the poll: 41% think the country is on the right track, which is up 15 points since January. This jump, the pollsters say, is fueled primarily by Democrats pleased so far by Obama's actions as president. As McInturff puts it, "If you're a Democrat, that's a pretty good six weeks compared to the last eight years in their mind."

*** A reminder of how things can change: Here's something else in the poll: Hillary Clinton's fav/unfav (59%-22%) and Michelle Obama's (63%-8%) are at all-time highs. And what's noteworthy here is that these women, of course, haven't always been this popular. Back in April 2008, Hillary had a net-negative fav/unfav (42%-44%), and 31% saw Michelle Obama in a negative light in September '08. The one person in Obama Land who isn't that popular? Answer: Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, whose fav/unfav is at 14%-18%. Also, despite all the attention surrounding Bobby Jindal's GOP response to Obama's address to Congress, a whopping 57% don't know who he is. His fav/unfav is 15%-15%.

*** A reminder of how things can change, part 2: After Obama's announcement Friday that combat operations will end in Iraq by Aug. 2010, the public has a much sunnier outlook about the conflict there. According to the poll, 53% think the war has been a success, which is up 10 points from July. Also, 67% say the U.S. has accomplished as much as can be expected there. And, overall, a whopping 80% approve of Obama's plan to pull most troops out of Iraq by that Aug. 2010 date.

*** Obama today: Per the AP, Obama today will sign a presidential memo "that changes government contracting procedures." The administration believes this could save taxpayers about $40 billion per year by introducing more competition into the bidding process. Also this evening, the president and first lady host a dinner at the White House for congressional committee chairs.

*** Quigley's the winner: In his bid to fill Rahm Emanuel's congressional seat, Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley won yesterday's Democratic primary, capturing 22% of the vote in a crowded field. He moves on to the April 7 general election, and is almost all but assured of winning in this Dem-leaning district.  

*** The never-ending recount: You knew this was coming, right? After being unable to significantly improve his standing in the Minnesota recount trial, Norm Coleman (R) yesterday said the judges will have to ponder whether they'll be able to declare a winner -- suggesting that there might need to be a do-over election. In its recount, the canvassing board had Al Franken (D) up by 225 votes. Responding to Coleman's comments, DNC chairman Tim Kaine fired off this statement: "The people of Minnesota have spoken. It's time for Norm Coleman to accept the voters' decision, do what is best for his state and country and stop standing in the way of a senator being seated. The stakes for our country are too high right now to suggest that the results of a democratic election, exhaustive recount, and legal proceedings be thrown out just because Norm Coleman doesn't like the results."

*** The Departed: South Carolina Rep. Gresham Barrett (R) is running for governor. Just asking, but how many other congressional Republicans are pondering a gubernatorial bid or another job? We've seen some safe Republican House members look for a way out, including Putnam in FL and Blunt in MO. Are they sending a subtle message by leaving right now?
 
Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 90 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 97 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 244 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 608 days

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