The following two scenes speak volumes about where the 2012 presidential race currently stands.
Picture first the White House basking in the glow of Friday’s jobs report that the unemployment rate has fallen form 8.5% to 8.3% while total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 243,000 in January – well ahead of expectations.
And the new jobs figures are just one of many reasons why there is an increasing air of optimism in the White House – as evidenced by recent polling.
First, the president’s position is strengthening.
As the president’s overall approval rating continues to rise from the the low-to-mid forties to the mid-to-high forties, a new NBC News/Wall St. Journal poll shows President Obama now leading GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney by six points (49%-43%), while 55% of respondents in a new Washington Post-Pew survey rated the president ahead of both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, in understanding the problems of ordinary Americans.
Second, the increasingly divisive nature of the GOP primary campaign has undoubtedly hurt Mr. Romney’s standing with both independent and swing voters.
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that independent voters – who two weeks earlier had an overall favorable view of Mr. Romney – now have an unfavorable impression of the former Massachusetts governor by a margin of more than 2 to 1.
In contrast, 51 percent of independents have a favorable impression of the president, compared with 45 percent who have an unfavorable view — his highest rating since April.
Meanwhile, President Obama’s position is strengthening in swing states. Indeed, a new USA Today/Gallup Swing States survey -- based on Jan. 24-28 Gallup Daily tracking of registered voters in 12 states that will be among the most crucial to winning the 2012 presidential election -- shows the president and Mr. Romney effectively tied (47%-48%). This marks a four point increase from December when the President trailed 43%-48.
A new poll from Public Policy Polling (D) in Ohio, a 56 percent majority of general election voters now view Romney unfavorably, and trails by seven points a matchup withpPresident Obama (42%-49%).
Similarly, latest NBC News/Marist poll shows President Obama leading the former governor by eight points (49%-41%) among registered Florida voters.
But there are even more substantial reasons why the White House should be optimistic.
Despite Romney’s double-digit win in Florida, nearly 4-in-10 (38%) of Florida primary voters said that they are not satisfied with any of the GOP candidates and would like to see someone else get in the race.
41 percent of voters said Romney’s positions on the issues are “not conservative enough.”
And Mr. Romney continues to have difficulty consolidating the support of the core base of the Republican Party – Tea Party supporters and evangelicals – who showed decided skepticism and lukewarm support for the former Governor in Florida.
Moreover, Mr. Romney’s comments during a post-Florida CNN interview that he’s not concerned about the plight of the country’s very poor only further underscore the difficulty he will have not only in assembling broad support within the GOP base, but with the overall electorate.
Finally, the increasingly bitter tone of the GOP primaries will undoubtedly hurt whoever wins the nomination in the general election.
Certainly, Rick Santorum’s efforts to portray Romney as a heartless capitalist who enjoys firing people and only cares about the wealthy – criticizing Mr. Romney during a speech in Reno, Nev. yesterday for not caring about America’s poor – not to mention Newt Gingrich’s continued attacks on Romney’s legacy as a “Massachusetts Moderate” and his record at Bain Capital will only make it more difficult for Romney to consolidate his support among the overall electorate.
Meanwhile, President Obama has demonstrated a newfound energy over the past couple of weeks.
He underscored a series of politically popular themes during the State of the Union -- including fairness, standing up for the middle class, bringing jobs back to America, standing up to China.
And he has continued to promote politically popular proposals on the campaign trail – most recently at an event in Arlington, Virginia Friday -- introducing a plan to put veterans back to work and pressuring Congress to extend the payroll tax cut for more than 160 million Americans and keep the economy improving, warning lawmakers, “Don’t muck it up!”
With President Barack Obama's re-election campaign gaining momentum, and Mitt Romney facing three caucuses and three opponents over the next month, there is every reason to believe that the high-fiving in the White House will only continue.
Douglas E. Schoen is a political strategist and Fox News contributor. Schoen, who served as a pollster for President Bill Clinton, is author of several books including the forthcoming "Hopelessly Divided: The New Crisis in American Politics and What It Means for 2012 and Beyond" (Rowman and Littlefield). Follow him on Twitter @DouglasESchoen.