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First thoughts: The return of Ross Perot?

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** The return of Ross Perot? Ross Perot has now become a political afterthought -- especially after his two presidential defeats and his disastrous NAFTA debate performance against Al Gore -- but the cause that he once championed seems to be making a comeback: balancing the budget.

In our new NBC/WSJ poll, nearly six in 10 respondents say the government should worry more about keeping the deficit down, even if that means the economy recovers more slowly. The latest New York Times/CBS poll has a similar result, with 60% believing the Obama administration doesn't have a plan to deal with deficit. What's more, self-identified independents, the same people Perot once appealed to, aren't as supportive of Obama. In our NBC/WSJ survey, 46% of independents approve of Obama's job, which is down from 60% in April, and that's the primary reason why the president's overall job rating has declined five points to 56%. The deficit, however, isn't the only problematic issue for Obama. Almost seven in 10 have serious reservations about the government's ownership of GM, and 52% oppose closing Gitmo. As one of us said on NBC's Nightly News last night, Obama is now dealing with a public that's judging him more for his actions than the promises he has made.

*** Blaming the GOP: But that's the bad news for Obama and the Democrats. The good news, according to our poll, is that the president is still personally popular: his fav/unfav is 60%-29%, and three-quarters like him, including 27% who don't agree with his policies. In addition, the public doesn't blame Obama for the deficit or the economy -- that honor instead goes to the previous Republican administration. Asked who is more responsible for the size of the deficit, 46% cited Bush, 21% said the Democrats in Congress, 7% said the Republicans in Congress, and just 6% said Obama. Moreover, 72% believe the current state of the economy is something the president inherited. Indeed, the Republican Party finds itself at all-time lows in our poll (25% positive rating) and in the NYT/CBS one (28%). And that brings up this question: If the public is really serious about the deficit, does it turn to a Perot-like figure instead of the GOP?

Video: Former DNC chairman Howard Dean and author P.J. O'Rourke discuss the future of both the Democrat and Republican Parties.

*** Good news and bad news on health care: On the subject of health care, there's good news for both Democrats and Republicans in our poll. More than three-quarters believe it's important for Americans to have a choice between a public/government insurance plan and a private one. But if a government-run option is established, 47% of those who hold private insurance say it's "very" or "somewhat" likely their employer would drop their plans. As Bill McInturff, the GOP half our NBC/WSJ poll, puts it: "It's hard to change the status quo when you have people who have been well served by the status quo." What is clear is that Americans aren't big fans of having their health-care benefits taxed: 59% oppose taxing those with generous health benefits, while 70% oppose taxing everyone's health benefits. Over to you, Max Baucus…

*** USA! USA! USA! Here's perhaps the most striking finding in the entire poll: There's a growing sense of American patriotism, at least as it relates to the U.S. auto industry. According to the survey, 54% say they've considered buying an American car in the past few years, and of those people, 40% say they are more likely to buy an American car due to the problems the U.S. industry is facing. By comparison, only 14% say they are less likely to buy an American car. Also, people are feeling more optimistic about the economy: 46% say the economy will get better in the next 12 months, which is up eight points since April and is the highest number on that question since Jan. 2004.

*** Odds and ends: Among the other poll findings we thought were interesting: Sonia Sotomayor's numbers compare favorably to, or even exceed, John Roberts' and Samuel Alito's; Dick Cheney's positive rating has increased eight points (to 26%); Nancy Pelosi's rating has decreased seven points (to 24%); for the first time, a plurality support believe the U.S. should take military action to destroy North Korea's ability to make nuclear weapons; and Obama's Cairo speech/Middle East trip was viewed favorably by the public, as 42% said it helped the United States' relationship with the Muslim world versus 14% who said it hurt it. Just askin' on Pelosi vs. Cheney, but did the speaker's numbers fall because she won't defend herself as much publicly as Cheney does?

*** Bush strikes back? Not only is Obama's honeymoon apparently over with the public, but it also seems over with the man he succeeded: George W. Bush. Yesterday giving a speech in Erie, PA, the former president fired a few shots at the new administration, according to the Washington Times. "I know it's going to be the private sector that leads this country out of the current economic times we're in," he said. "You can spend your money better than the government can spend your money." He also said, "Government does not create wealth. The major role for the government is to create an environment where people take risks to expand the job rate in the United States." On health care, "There are a lot of ways to remedy the situation without nationalizing health care," he said. "I worry about encouraging the government to replace the private sector when it comes to providing insurance for health care." Finally, when asked by the emcee whether Obama's policies were "socialist," Bush started to answer and then stopped. "I hear a lot of those words, but it depends on…" He later said, "We'll see."

*** Obama's day: The president meets with Middle East envoy George Mitchell at 3:15 pm ET (closed press) and then with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner at 4:00 pm (also closed press). In the evening, Obama headlines a fundraiser for the Democratic House and Senate campaign committees, which is expected to raise $3 million for the party. And here's one other piece of news: Hillary Clinton broke her elbow yesterday on her way to the White House and will need surgery. She was scheduled to do an event with Angelina Jolie today on refugees, and that has been canceled.

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 138 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 502 days

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