Comeback kids? Clintons surge in polls, Obama falls to new low

Clinton with Obama on the campaign trail, June 27, 2008

Clinton with Obama on the campaign trail, June 27, 2008

President Obama had separate meetings at the White House Tuesday with his former rivals, Bill and Hillary Clinton; and while the topics of discussion may have been about diplomacy, one issue not likely to come up is that recent polls show the Clintons are surging in job approval polls, and the president’s are hitting new lows.

The numbers represent a striking reversal of fortune for the Clintons, whose were supposed to have been eclipsed by Obama’s historic presidency. Instead, their stature has grown as Obama’s has shrunk

Just 53 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s job performance, compared with 66 percent who approve of Mrs. Clinton’s, according to a recent survey of registered voters by Fox News and Opinion Dynamics. That’s a new low and a 12-point drop for Obama from January and a 10-point jump for Mrs. Clinton since April.  Mrs. Clinton has even seen movement in Republican approval, increasing 11 points to 39 percent.

Meanwhile, a Rasmussen poll shows former President Bill Clinton’s favorability increasing by 26 percent since he left office in 2001. 

President Obama’s slide in the polls can be blamed in part on his increasingly unpopular health care reform plan.

By contrast, Mrs. Clinton has been helped by flying around the globe talking tough to North Korea and declaring “The United States is back!” And her husband’s reputation improved after he negotiated the release of two American journalists from North Korea.

The new numbers beg the question, could the Clintons could be having the best year ever? And an even bigger question, what would this mean for a potential 2012 Clinton/Obama rematch? Secretary Clinton has so far shied away openly saying she'd think about running.  When asked about a taking on President Obama in a primary challenge, on July 23 she told Fox News Correspondent James Rosen, “I have no interest or inclination. And he’s going to be reelected overwhelmingly because of the great job he’s doing.”

There may be nothing being said on the record about 2012, but has history has shown – you can never count a Clinton out.

Throughout America’s political past, no secretary of state or sitting cabinet member has ever tried to run against his or her boss, the incumbent president, to get a party nomination for president.  Secretary Clinton may have had a stumble by losing the 2008 primary fight, but as history has shown, the Clintons have several political lives.  Just as the press dubbed Mr. Clinton in the 1992 campaign the "Comeback Kid,"  polls are showing we just may now have the "Comeback Kids."

Doug Schoen, former Clinton adviser and consultant in Bill Clinton’s re-election bid adds that he doesn’t see a relationship between their successes and Obama’s ongoing problems with health care,   “he’s [Obama] had a couple tough weeks” and “the Clintons singularly have had successes in their own realm.”  “The way I see it, the Clintons have had two extraordinary good weeks… that’s why they’re up in the polls.”  When asked if behind the scenes Clinton advisers might be keeping a close eye on the polls and quietly looking at a possible rematch in 2012, Schoen says “I don’t think anyone is thinking of, talking of that, they’re concentrating on doing their own jobs.” 

Another seasoned political strategist, Karl Rove, who is a Fox News contributor and former President George W. Bush adviser, added this about the president’s numbers, “Obama’s turning in the polls is because he’s becoming increasingly less popular with economy, spending, and health care – he’s far more liberal than he led on when on the campaign trail.”  He also notes the Clintons both benefit from not being in public and largely less visible.  When asked if this could mean anything for  2012, he simply replied, “no.”

After Mr. Obama won, many wondered how Mrs. Clinton would quietly be able to resume her post as the freshman senator from New York, having to watch her former colleague occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  The loss for Hillary Clinton was, by extension, viewed as a loss for Bill Clinton too.  Then president-elect Obama made a move that some saw as an effort to neutralize her, extending a nomination to serve in his cabinet as secretary of state.

Since then, Secretary Clinton has rolled up her pant-suit sleeves, getting to work and globe-trotting around the world, most recently doing a goodwill and listening tour through Africa for 11 days.  In July, Mrs. Clinton took trip to Asia and had strong words for North Korea comparing them an "unruly teenager." North Korea fired back, calling her a "silly lady" and "not very intelligent."

Mr. Clinton also jumped into the diplomatic fray by swooping into North Korea and saving two US journalists who had been captured. Current TV reporters Euna Lee and Laura Ling were jailed in March, sentenced to 12 years hard labor for illegally entering the country and what North Korea called "hostile acts."

The journalists returned safely home and in a warm welcome back to the states, expressed their gratitude for the former president’s efforts in negotiating their release.  Newspaper and internet headlines assailed “Bubba is back!”  In a new Fox News Opinion Dynamics poll among registered voters, 30 percent of people thought that US relations with North Korea would improve after his visit.

Meanwhile, President Obama is struggling in polls and as his domestic agenda reached a screeching halt with health care reform. The president set the August recess for the Democratically-controlled Congress to get their health care bill together. It didn't happen.  

Public opinion polls show that Americans are more skeptical about the president’s performance and ability to handle the situation.  And now as town halls pop up all over the nation, angry voters are fuelling this hot August, (typically a sleepy time for Washington) with questions and doubts on a government run health care system.  But health care is not his only item on the “to do” list – he still has a struggling economy, rising deficit, and wants to try to get immigration debate started later this year. 

(Fox News’ House producer Chad Pergram also contributed to this report)