No Primary Challengers? Obama's 2012 View Looks Clear From the Left

With all the talk of problems the tax extension deal creates for President Obama from his left, at least one would-be 2012 presidential contender doesn't seem interested in rising to the primary challenge.

Former presidential candidate Howard Dean, who served as the Democratic National Committee chairman after his failed 2004 White House bid, had been named as a potential taker in challenging the president from within the party. But Dean said Sunday he doesn't expect Obama to have to endure a primary challenger.

"I don't think he's going to face an opponent in the Democratic primary. I think that would be a bad thing for the country and I think it would be a bad thing for the Democratic Party. The history of people running against presidents in their own party is the challenger loses and then the president is weakened and loses," Dean said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Obama senior adviser David Axelrod, who's leaving the White House soon to crank up the president's re-election effort, said he, too, isn't worried about a primary challenge.

"No, I don't worry about that at all," Axelrod said on the same program, "because I think he's done good things for the country. He's fighting for the American people and for progress. And that progress is going to show. The thing that would be worrisome to me if we made a bunch of decisions based on short-term political calculations."

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., agreed that Obama won't face a challenge despite all the anger about the backroom deal he negotiated last week with Republicans and absent Democratic input.

"No. There's no challenge. Look, everybody's on the same page. Everyone supports the same agenda," he told "Fox News Sunday," though he noted that some members of the Democratic Caucus will "never go along with any compromise" on tax rates.

But the anger on the left over the president's deal-making, seen by many as an acknowledgement of the "shellacking" Democrats took in the midterm election, gave rise to talk of a challenger somewhere.

One report said liberals in the House were dropping F-bombs on the president during the week. McClatchy reported Saturday a new poll of 1,029 adults that showed the president's approval rating among liberals dropping from 78 to 69 percent, while his disapproval rating in that group jumped from 14 to 22 percent. Obama's approval rating is 42 percent overall, according to the poll.

Dean's name came up as a possible challenger, as did those of defeated Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin or would-be filibustering independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

But since then, some on the left, while angry about compromise, have tempered their outbursts. That cooling-off may have been the result of former President Bill Clinton's encore turn Friday at the White House briefing room, which left some to concede that if it's good enough for the ever-popular Clinton, it's good enough for them.

For others, it may have been the dire warnings from editorialists like The Washington Post's Colbert King, who said a primary challenge would leave the Democratic Party paying "a steep price" for years to come.

So far, the only potential candidate reportedly willing to go on record about stepping up to a primary challenge is former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel.

That's not to say that liberal Democrats aren't livid at the president. Progressive organizers and Internet campaigners who joined the "Rootscamp" event in Washington, D.C., this weekend did not disguise their disgust about the White House decision to cooperate with Republicans.

"After President Obama's victory, there was a promise that his vast grassroots network would help push the popular progressive change he campaigned on into law -- things like the public option and ending tax cuts for the rich. Unfortunately, as the White House cut backroom deals that undercut those promises, they also demobilized their grassroots troops," said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Campaign Committee. Green said his and other liberal groups "are now picking up the ball that this White House dropped."

But with a resounding silence among viable candidates who could challenge the previously adored president, angry liberals have few places to turn.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the second-in-command in the U.S. Senate and among the first lawmakers to encourage Obama to make a bid for the White House said the "harsh reality" is that any president will have to "accommodate the demands" of Republicans whether they want to or not.

"If we want to change Washington and continue to move in the right direction, we need to stand together. And sometimes the accommodations that we make, the compromises that we make may be painful, but we've got to eat the spinach and keep moving on," he said on CNN.

Axelrod acknowledged that in 2012 Obama will have to face the politics of newly scheduled-to-expire tax rates, but he will have the American people on his side when he defends his refusal to make current tax rates permanent.

"Right now, we face a situation where everyone's taxes would go up on January 1. I think we're going to be in a fundamentally different position in 2012. The economy will be stronger. We'll have gone through a big debate on -- on how we have to -- what we have to cut and give up. I don't think people are going to make that tradeoff in 2012," he said.

And if it's a 2012 challenge from the right, Axelrod is best off to prepare now. The McClatchy poll out over the weekend showed Republican Mitt Romney defeating Obama in a hypothetical 2012 matchup. That's attributed to Obama's apparent drop in popularity among independent voters, who prefer Romney to the president 47-39 percent.