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Forget those Republicans for now, Obama's real 2012 opponent is The Economy

June 9, 2011 |  3:28 am

Obama tells Chrysler workers in Toledo their industry is important 6-3-11

It's not really that hard to do so far.

Just forget for a minute the expanding array of already, certain and maybe Republican presidential candidates. And forget the idea of a serious Democratic challenger to President Obama next year.

The incumbent's most serious opponent for reelection in 2012 is right now and likely still will be not a person but The Economy.

It's not good, despite all of Joe Biden's glib fundraiser promises. From the very beginning of his presidency, which sure seems like more than 870 days ago, almost every poll has shown the top concerns of Americans were economic: jobs, the economy, the deficit.

Yes, yes, Obama said and still does, creating new jobs is Job One, after endlessly reminding of the troubled economy he inherited, an excuse that doesn't seem to work anymore. On June 2, press secretary Jay Carney repeated all the travails and then stated:

"There is no issue that matters more to this president than the economic health of this country and the job security of Americans and job creation in this country. So he's focused on this very directly."

Which is, no doubt, why a Daily Economic Briefing has been quietly erased from....

...the president's routine weekday schedule. And why next week he's off to a Miami DNC fundraiser and then a visit to, say what, Puerto Rico. As we may have mentioned here before, the presidential eyesight for political optics needs some serious laser surgery.

In the public mind there always seems to be something else getting in the way of a perceived laser-like chief executive's focus on the economy, other than regular recitation of the same big-hole-but-we're-on-the-right-track-now-though-obviously-we-want-more speech. First came Obama'sMemorial Day 2011 Arlington National Cemetery Lawton Family Prays at his grave $787-billion economic stimulus bill, from the desks of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.

Twenty days into office, Obama's National Economics Council director, Lawrence Summers, was asked how long for the stimulus bill to take effect? His reply to CNN: "You'll see the effects begin almost immediately."

Fourteen months later, remember in the spring of 2010 Joey B promising 200,000 to 500,000 new jobs a month any day? Last month: 54,000.

If we didn't get that stimulus bill through the Democratic-ruled Congress, the Democratic administration warned, unemployment could possibly soar as high as 8.8%. Yikes! Quick, get that sucker passed.

Well, here's a problem: We got that bill through Congress in all its debt-bound, union job glory. The president was so pleased he signed it after flying all the way out to Denver for some reason.

But as the astute Jonah Goldberg notes, the national unemployment rate has now climbed above 9% anyway. So, we're three-quarters of a trillion dollars poorer with too few new jobs to show for it.

A loss of 2.8 million jobs in these 870 days and a gain of $3.7 trillion in new debt. Such a deal! Who wouldn't want four more years of that?

Lots of talk about the economy. But those five dozen townhalls were on Obama's beloved healthcare heave-ho. Then came Wall Street financial reforms, clean cars, foreign trip after foreign trip, schoolyard bullying, windmills, that little oil spill and victory laps over killing Osama bin Laden and saving some U.SRepublican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks in New Hampshire 5-11. automakers.

The polls now show Obama's job approval on the economy tanking, even among Democrats and, ominously, among independents so crucial to his 2008 victory coalition.

At the moment public dissatisfaction over the economy seems to benefit Republican former businessman/governor Mitt Romney, who now leads an incumbent president narrowly in some polls, while 60% flunk the president on his economy job performance.

Right now, the future doesn't look great. Three wars underway, counting the controversial combat over Libya, which Obama assured congressional Democrats would last days not weeks and has already been months.

Forecasts for economic growth this year have been revised downward, as has the Obama campaign's once optimistic chatter about this first quarter of money harvesting.

There's still time for Obama to recover, of course. And/or for Republicans to cripple themselves in some holy war over ideological purity. But gas prices remain almost twice what they were pre-hopey-changey days.

By this time next year the legal challenges to Obama healthcare could be nearing V-day in the Supreme Court, dooming the president's trademark achievement. While one report this week suggested one-third of employers would drop employee health coverage by 2014, dooming Obama's oft-repeated promise that everyone could keep their existing coverage if they want.

And if the economy and unemployment rate don't show noticeable improvement by then, Obama might opt for some kind of dramatic cosmetic change. Incumbent presidents don't like changing vice presidents; it hasn't happened since FDR's days.

But Biden will turn 70 next year, almost the age that so many suggested disqualified John McCain from the White House.

If someone close to Biden suggested that he was looking like he felt a need for more family time after serving in government since Barack was a sixth grader, then, gee, Obama would have no choice but to pick a fresh, quite possibly female face as running mate. Creating an heir apparent for 2016.

And possibly shaking the race up just enough.

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You know how Sarah Palin said Paul Revere warned the British? Well, he did

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photos: J.D. Pooley / Getty Images (Obama recounts importance of the auto industry to Chrysler workers in Toledo, June 3); Jose Luis Magana / Associated Press (family of a Marine lost in Afghanistan prays at Arlington National Cemetery, May 30); Jim Cole / Associated Press (Romney speaks in New Hampshire).

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