Power Play

No 'Upper Hand' For Obama on Economy

Obama Democrats Try to Talk Up Low Numbers

“The strongest current running through our country and our politics right now”

-- A White House official describing the Occupy Wall Street protests to The Hill.

Obama Democrats believe they have “the upper hand” on Congress as House Republicans head into the latest round of jousting over taxes, spending, deficits and the economy.

To illustrate, a White House official in a background briefing with reporter Sam Youngman from The Hill, pointed to the Occupy Wall Street movement as evidence.

To quote Robert Duvall as Ned Pepper in “True Grit” – “I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man.”

President Obama was tied at 40 percent with Republicans in Congress in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll on whom Americans trusted to do a better job of creating jobs. That was down 9 points for Obama and up 6 points for Republicans since September when, as ABC’s Jake Tapper first pointed out, top Obama political adviser David Axelrod circulated a memo on Capitol Hill crowing about the numbers as evidence for when congressional Democrats ought to stick with the president on his stimulus package.

Obama’s most recent rating for handling the economy according to Gallup is 30 percent, five points lower than before the 2010 elections that swamped the president. Approval for his handling of the federal budget deficit stands at 26 percent.

It’s no picnic for congressional Republicans, who have been watching approval for their branch of government slide to new lows.

The 9 percent approval rating for Congress so often cited by Obama Democrats is all but meaningless because it doesn’t explain the source of the disapproval. Is Congress to conservative? Too liberal? Too slow? Too fast?

Democrats have a similar messaging problems on health care, where continually high disapproval for the president’s 2010 health law is driven by those who think it too liberal and by those who think it not liberal enough. But it won’t help to say “Hey, 10 points of that majority comes from people who think we sold out to drug companies and big insurance!”

The more dangerous data point for Republicans is in the most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll in which respondents said they would prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress.

In August, the split was 47 percent who wanted Republicans in charge and 41 percent who wanted Democrats on top. This month, Democrats led 45 percent to 41 percent. Power Play should point out that Democrats have historically led this measure and that even a tie, based on voter turnout patterns, is very good news for the GOP (the final survey before the 2010 GOP landslide had the red team down 2 points), but the movement here is significant.

Republicans carded their lowest score in this metric since January 2010 and their largest deficit to Democrats in two years. These are small numbers and small gaps, but 47 percent is better than 41 percent any day.

There are certainly perils for the GOP as House Republicans try to navigate the warren of budget and tax policy issues that will come up over the next year – especially in the coming six weeks.

But one peril they do not currently face is a president with an “upper hand” on the economy. If anything, Obama is losing his grip.

And as for Occupy Wall Street, Democrats should be worried about its proximity to them not highlighting its connection to the president’s cause. As the casual protesters fall away like autumn leaves, the confrontations between ordinary America and these folks will get worse and worse. With Republicans getting ready to nominate a moderate, law-and-order kind of candidate, Democrats had better be careful not to create a replay of 1968.

But, if Obama can succeed in creating the media narrative that he is winning the fight on spending and taxes with Republicans, it will reduce defections among congressional Democrats and help buck up base voters. That, in turn, would actually improve his condition.

For Cain and Perry, Millions of Reasons to Stay on the Race

“I didn't go to political correctness school”

-- Herman Cain talking to supporters in Kalamazoo, Mich., where he cracked a joke about Justice Clarence Thomas’ sexual harassment accuser, Anita Hill, and walked back an apology for referring to the House minority leader as “princess Nancy.”

Herman Cain’s campaign says it took in $9 million since October 1 – more than in the entire campaign to that point – as supporters rallied to his defense in the face of a half-dozen claims of sexual misconduct.

Cain has now slid into essentially a three-way tie with Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich in the latest CBS News poll, hemorrhaging support among female Republicans. More worrisome is that the constant repetition of the charges against him continues to remind voters that Cain, previously cast as a Tea Party outsider, led a lobbying group in Washington for nearly three years. His support among conservatives in the poll dropped from 30 percent to 23 percent and among Tea Party supporters from 32 percent to 19 percent.

There is so far no indication that Cain is planning to use the money to upgrade his oft-erring staff. But if Cain doesn’t use the money to punch up his team and go for a quick turnaround, $9 million will keep the big bus emblazoned with Cain’s face rolling down the highways for a long time to come. Even if Cain fizzles, he can live off his big month at least through January.

The same goes for Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

He doesn’t have staff problems – he has performance problems. While Perry subjected himself to the media dunking tank all day Thursday in an effort to get past his massive brain freeze at the CNBC debate, many have now written Perry’s presidential obituary.

But Perry has collected nearly $20 million from donors and his supporters also started up a multi-million-dollar super PAC to boost his bid. Not only does that money buy Perry image-restoring ads, but also puts Perry in an awkward position.

If Perry were to pack it, his donors might feel that they had been short changed and that the governor, who has at times has seemed a reluctant contender, didn’t give the effort his all.

Unlike Fred Thompson in 2008, Perry is still a working politician who would have to go back to Texas and govern if he bowed out. If he was forced out of the race on a low note, that would leave him with a weaker hand in Austin and less attractive to his longtime backers.

So Perry presses on, enduring a humiliation that must be galling for a guy who was an Air Force pilot who has governed the second largest state in the union for a decade. Imagine being a serious hombre one day and then the next day having to stand on stage and be snickered at by the likes of David Letterman. Brutal.

But Perry, always a fierce competitor, has little choice but to press on and give it his all. Imagine, for example, what Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum would be doing if they had $10 million still to spend.

Gingrich, who is benefiting the most from Perry and Cain’s woes, has the opposite problem. He has the momentum, but doesn’t have the money.

His campaign is still in debt from the lavish rollout and quick implosion of Newt 1.0 and has struggled to keep his head above water with small donations. Now, at the time when he really use some cash to run ads in South Carolina or beef up his Iowa field operations, Gingrich is short on funds while Perry and Cain have the money to try to mitigate their problems.

Campaign finances in primary contests are legging indicators, not leading ones. Perry is spending August’s money and Cain is sitting on the cash from two weeks ago while Gingrich is still paying for his woebegone summer.

Thanks to Those Who Serve

“My brave fellows, you have done all I asked you to do, and more than can be reasonably expected; but your country is at stake, your wives, your houses and all that you hold dear. You have worn yourselves out with fatigues and hardships, but we know not how to spare you. If you will consent to stay one month longer, you will render that service to the cause of liberty, and to your country, which you probably can never do under any other circumstances.”

-- Gen. George Washington in his successful re-enlistment appeal to the defeated, freezing and disease ravaged troops at Valley Forge on Dec. 31, 1777.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“I once was at a holiday dinner, a large number of people, at the end of which I decided I was going to do a toast to the hostess. And as I launched in to it, I realized I could not remember her name. I had known her for 20 years. And the more I tried to remember it, the more I panic.

I realize I’m in a Thelma and Louise moment: I'm going over the cliff. So I pulled the parachute and said: ‘And I raise my glass to the splendid lady of the house.’ Everybody looks at me as if I'm extremely strange, which of course I am.

And I think I'd escaped. But on the way home, my son says, ‘Hey dad, you couldn't remember her name, could you?’ I said ‘Absolutely not.’ If I had been a Texan, I would have said ‘Oops.’”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.