By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
At the end of his first 100 days in office, President Barack Obama can look back on an extraordinary run of luck. He swept a change-oriented congressional majority into Congress with him, the ideological divisions within his party have been minimized and the Republicans are nearly prostrate over their failure to counter his proposals in anything resembling an effective way.
Obama can now also crow about the defection of Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, who said Tuesday he would be leaving the GOP and running for re-election as a Democrat. Politically, it's a smart move for the 79-year-old Specter who, in a reverse Reagan, told the voters in his state that he had not left the GOP but rather the GOP had left him. And, according to recent polling data—he is correct. The latest numbers showed Specter, a 29-year Senate incumbent, losing the GOP primary to former U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey by nearly 2-to-1.
America also continues to embrace Obama. According to a recent survey by Public Opinion Strategies, a GOP firm, "an amazing 79 percent of the voters we talked to told us they liked President Obama as a person." His agenda, however, is less popular.
"Just fifty-five percent of Americans say they like President Obama's policies," says POS's Steve Kinney. "This is still a solid majority, but the economic conditions in this country are still not improving, and these numbers show that Obama's charismatic personality can only carry him so far."
But carry him it will until the Republicans are able to develop a contrasting agenda that focuses on the issues America cares about—like the economy and jobs and federal spending—rather than spending time complaining about the leftward cultural drift Obama is engaged in.
To the GOP's detriment, the Democrats have been successful in conveying the idea that the Republicans are the party of "No"—no choices, no alternatives, no new ideas, and, most importantly, no solutions to the current problems plaguing America. According to Kinney, "Only fourteen percent of American voters say they have heard a lot about Republican alternatives," while only about a third say they have heard at least some of the Republicans' ideas. But, he cautions, "our experience tells us that a portion of the 'some' response is voters who are just trying to save face and not appear uninformed to the person interviewing them."
Voters, as we recently saw in the New York special congressional election, seem ready to stick with Obama unless given a compelling reason to do otherwise. This is the key point for the GOP—that Republicans have to do more than say "No." That doesn't mean they have to remake the party in some new, hip image that appeals to young people or rebrand themselves in ways that will lead the New York Times and CNN to speak of the party as "more socially tolerant" (which, by the way, is never going to happen). The GOP has to focus on finding and presenting real solutions, solutions that address the current crises and that work. Otherwise, Republicans will just be spinning their wheels.
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