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Americans now back to an even split over control of Congress -- and a plurality favors another Obama term

October 26, 2010 |  5:18 am

Democrat president Barack Obama in the Oval Office

Not that you'd know it from President Obama's constant cross-country campaigning recently, but the Democrat is not on any ballot one week from today.

He has the luxury -- unlike so many fellow Democrats in Congress -- of looking longer term. And regardless of what happens in either or both houses on Capitol Hill on Nov. 2, from the bullet-proof windows of Obama's Oval Office things are looking pretty good, if you study the latest poll numbers and a little bit of history.

A pair of new Pew Research/National Journal Congressional Connection polls out last night belies all the talk of Republican voter enthusiasm and a political tsunami, which is politics for "early retirement."

One Pew survey shows American registered voters are evenly divided now about what would be better for the country -- a Republican-controlled Congress (32%), a Democrat-controlled Congress (32%) or makes no difference (30%). This appears to conflict with numerous generic congressional polls this fall showing a lopsided intention to vote for a Republican member of Congress.

Among next Tuesday's likely voters the numbers don't change that much -- 38%, 34% and 23%. So much it seems for all that 1894 talk.

As we wrote here earlier this month, whichever party controls either house, Obama is....

...well-situated politically. If Democrats maintain their control from the 2006 midterms, he will appear to have pulled off an upset and can drive his liberal legislative agenda. If Republicans win one or, less likely, both houses, he has a 2012 whipping boy to blame for the ensuing two-year gridlock.A happy Democrat president Barack Obama

The new Pew numbers also indicate mixed and certainly not overwhelmingly enthusiastic voter support for some possible Republican policies --  allowing more offshore oil drilling (55%-39% approve), allowing private Social Security accounts (51%-36% approve), repealing Obama's healthcare bill (49%-39% approve) and passing a Constitutional amendment to bar children of illegal immigrants from automatically becoming U.S. citizens (46%-46%).

Another Pew study finds that without a clear Republican alternative at the moment, more Americans want Obama to seek a second term (47%) than don't (42%).

Those numbers are about the same as they were around Bill Clinton's first midterm election, when Republicans won control of both houses of Congress for the first time in four decades. Obama's second term number is actually better than that of Ronald Reagan at a comparable time in his first term.

Both Clinton and Reagan, of course, benefitted from economic recoveries and captured easy victories, with Reagan's 49-state 1984 landslide becoming the largest electoral vote total ever, 525-13. Another 3,800 votes in Al Franken's state and Reagan would have won all 50 states, or 57, according to Obama's campaign total.

The crucial distinction this time is that the partisan gap -- the difference between the many Democrats and the few Republicans who want him to re-run -- is 71 points, much larger than the 46-point gap between the two parties for Reagan at this time in his first term and more than twice the 34-point partisan splits for Clinton and George H.W. Bush.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Pete Souza / White House; Associated Press.