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As Obama leaves for Asia, GOP gains first lead on generic congressional ballot since he took office

November 12, 2009 |  3:34 am

Bareack Obama aboard Air Force One in his official presidential jacket

Time was when American presidents in domestic trouble would travel abroad to be seen positively back home as a world leader.

Then-freshman Sen. Barack Obama was hoping for a little of that back in the summer of 2008 when he staged his expensive campaign rally with an adoring throng in downtown Berlin. Alas, Germans couldn't vote for him -- or a Republican. But it looked great stateside for a few days.

After a brief media statement this morning to get him plastered on the daytime news, President Obama will make the long flight (just ask Sarah Palin) to Alaska to talk with U.S. troops at Elmendorf Air Force Base at local lunchtime while Air Force One refuels for a flight to Tokyo, beginning the president's nine-day trip across Asia. Talk about throngs.

Obama could use some good political news because as he boards the plane with his own bedroom and shower stall, word spread from the Gallup Poll folks that for the first time in over a year, more Americans say they would pick Republicans on a generic congressional ballot than a Democrat.

It's now 48% Republican and 44% Democrat. And this comes after months of the ...

... Republican suits, whom Democrat critics label as the party of no, being in the poll dumpster along with their recent ex-president. So, maybe no is the new yes.

According to the Rasmussen daily tracking poll, 46% approve of Obama to varying degrees. Now, 53% disapprove. 

Worse, Obama, who built his lopsided 2008 win on a new, apparently fragile coalition involving independents, now loses that crucial swing group by 22 points, according to the survey last weekend. They began falling away from Obama during the summer as the scale of his plans, spending and deficits emerged.

It's a long time -- 355 days -- until Nov. 2, 2010, of course. And the GOP still must recruit a wide array of attractive local candidates to send forth, as the Democrats did to retake Congress in 2006. But even 12 months out, such revealing trends are closely watched by professional pols -- and, importantly, their would-be donors. In fact, despite its internal disarray, the Republican Party has been out-raising its opposition in recent months.

The Democratic president faces a variety of challenges that could adversely affect his party's ability to hold its lopsided margins in both houses of Congress -- and cause D.C. Democrats to act far more cautiously on the administration's agenda in coming months, in reaction to their own perceived survival at home.

Democrats Barack Obama Harry Reid Nancy Pelosi

Even before these new polls, Speaker Nancy Pelosi lost 39 Democratic House members on Saturday's healthcare vote, 220-215. If only three others had changed their mind, she would not be trying so hard to smile. (see photo at left)

These Obama problems include but, as even Harvard-trained lawyers insist on inserting, are not limited to:

A double-digit unemployment rate (10.2%) not expected to improve a lot for many months; an immense budget deficit, also growing; finishing the divisive struggle for healthcare legislation now slated to cost $1.2 trillion (T, as in Toledo, holy Toledo!); a smoldering Afghan war in which casualties are the highest ever and to which Obama appears ready to commit additional U.S. troops, to the unhappiness of his own party's left; a potential H1N1 swine flu pandemic as federal deliveries of vaccine lag far behind schedule; and an historical political pattern that sees the White House lose Hill seats in every new president's first midterm vote except twice -- FDR in 1934 and GWB in 2004.

Gallup found that 38% of voters said they'd advise their member of Congress to vote no on healthcare now; 29% said they'd urge a yes vote. And fully 44% of independents would push for a nay.

Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada (also in photo above), who has his own poll troubles back home as he faces a reelection contest in 2010, has scheduled debate to begin on the Senate's version of healthcare legislation next week. However, in what passes for democracy in action in Washington, Reid has yet to let anyone read the massive draft bill.

Finally, the closely watched most recent Rasmussen Reports daily presidential tracking poll finds that about 30% of Americans strongly approve of Obama's job performance.

However, about 40% now strongly disapprove.

Sometimes it's good to get away.

 -- Andrew Malcolm

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Photos: Obama aboard Air Force One. Credit: White House; MSNBC