Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Washington Post Morning Fix: Obama’s opportunity in Libya

Obama's opportunity in Libya

By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza

The first two weeks of U.S. involvement in Libya haven’t gone great for President Obama. And the news got worse Wednesday when it was reported that Moammar Gaddafi’s forces had beaten back the rebel forces in a key clash.

And while early indications are that Obama is losing the American public on this issue, the good news for Obama is that not all that many people are paying attention.

New Pew poll numbers show that just 15 percent of people said they followed the situation in Libya more closely than any other story last week. That’s in spite of the fact that 41 percent of the new coverage focused on the conflict there.

Meanwhile, 57 percent of people said they followed the earthquake and tsunami fallout in Japan more closely than any other story, even though it was only 15 percent of the news coverage.

Half the public said they were following the situation in Japan “very closely,” while only 33 percent were that focused on Libya. And that Libya numbers is still less than those who say they followed news about the economy “very closely.”

Part of the problem with Libya is that it’s a country few Americans know much about, and the situation there is very muddled. Japan, on the other hand, is a known commodity, and a natural disaster and nuclear threat is something that connects at a more visceral level.

And that’s key to the politics here. It means many Americans are only starting to tune in to Libya, and that means they’re still forming their opinions.

For Obama, that’s the good news. A Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday showed the president’s approval rating dropping to 42 percent, with voters opposing U.S. involvement in Libya by a 47 percent-to-41 percent margin.

Similarly, a Gallup poll released Wednesday showed just 52 percent of people think Obama is a “strong and decisive leader.” That’s down from when Obama was in the 60s earlier in his presidency.

Most polling has shown that Americans remain unclear about precisely what the mission in Libya is. Obama tried to clarify things in his speech Monday night, but there’s plenty of work to be done on that front.

Part of the hesitance to support the mission is undoubtedly war fatigue. With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still very relevant today, another conflict is a hard sell.

Here’s why it can still work.

The first — and best — solution for Obama is if Gaddafi were to step aside. All of a sudden, Obama can claim victory, and whatever preceded that victory becomes less important.

Second, while Americans aren’t terribly clear on the endgame in Libya and may oppose the general concept of “U.S. involvement,” strong majorities in the Quinnipiac poll favor using cruise missiles to take down Libya’s air defense and using the U.S. military to protect Libyan civilians. Meanwhile, a plurality says military force should not be used to depose Gaddafi.

All three elements are essentially Obama’s foreign policy in Libya.

As that becomes clearer to the American people, Obama has a chance to turn things around. The conditions on the ground matter, first and foremost, but so does the American public’s willingness to support the commander in chief.

They’ve still got open minds.

Barbour mum on Huckabee endorsement: Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) is being coy about reports that he’s reached out to former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee about an endorsement in case Huckabee doesn’t run for president.

“Neil, if you don’t run for president, I’d like to have your support,” Barbour told Fox News’s Neil Cavuto. “If I end up running, of course I want to get everybody’s support who’s not running.”

Barbour and Huckabee are longtime friends, so an endorsement wouldn’t be terribly surprising if Huckabee doesn’t run.

The contact between the two camps was first reported by Politico’s Jonathan Martin.

GOP poll shows Sherrod Brown in mid-40s: The potential GOP field to face Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) in 2012 isn’t lighting the world on fire yet, but a new poll suggests there’s an opportunity for whoever runs.

The poll, conducted by GOP pollster Strategic National last week, shows Brown stuck in the mid-40s in matchups with former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, state Treasurer Josh Mandel and Rep. Pat Tiberi.

Brown still leads each of them by double digits, but that’s at least partly because none of the three Republicans is well-known. None of the three have name IDs in the 50s.

Browns leads Blackwell 45 percent to 32 percent, Mandel 44 percent to 21 percent and Tiberi 46 percent to 21 percent.

The slightly better-known Blackwell, who ran for governor in 2006, leads both Tiberi and Mandel in a prospective head-to-head primary matchup. Reports have indicated Mandel is leaning towards running, while Blackwell has started indicated interest in recent days.


  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s approval rating is at 66 percent — near an all-time high — in a new Gallup poll.

  • Americans are increasingly pessimistic about the state of the economy, but they aren’t taking it out on Obama, according to a new AP-GfK poll.

  • Barbour is going to Tallahassee to meet with Florida state legislators.


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