Obama's Campaign Isn't Worried About 2012

Despite lows in polling and the economy, the president's re-election team is confident he'll win; here's why.

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With the start of the primary season now just weeks away, the heated Republican race is monopolizing election news. In an endless string of debates, stump speeches and interviews this year, each GOP contender has jumped to explain why his or her vision for the country is best. And as the economy continues to be stuck in the doldrums, the candidates have made their cases for how President Obama's leadership has failed.

For instance, in an open letter to Obama this week, timed with the president's Fort Bragg trip welcoming troops home from Iraq, Mitt Romney wrote, "Mr. President, you came into office facing an economic crisis. It was not your doing. But after three years, it is plain that your policies have made things worse, not better ... It is a disgrace that those who are now returning from Iraq join other Iraq veterans suffering from unemployment above 11 percent. In the face of such economic hardship, fine words welcoming veterans home are insufficient."

Although Obama's national approval rating improved a bit after hitting an all-time low in the fall, his marks on the economy remain at a record low. By some accounts, his re-election chances are doomed. This week the Obama campaign, however, explained a decidedly sunny outlook on the state of the race.

An Erratic Republican Field

At the top of the campaign's list of reasons they're feeling OK about things is the field of Republican challengers. "The Republican Party has kind of split in two," said Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod in a reporter's briefing, describing two separate factions: populist, Tea Party-driven social conservatives and center-right corporate Republicans. "But all the energy is on the Tea Party folks."

Romney, whom Axelrod places in the more traditional wing of the GOP, has tried to gain admission to the other side by reversing many of his previous positions -- now supporting a repeal of Roe v. Wade, a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage and a plan to send 11 million undocumented immigrants back to their birth countries. Yet for his efforts, Romney continues to stall at around a quarter or less of the vote in national primary polling.

Newt Gingrich, the party's current front-runner, has gained favor as a bold reformer with his plan to cut more taxes for the wealthiest Americans and even a proposal to put poor children to work as school janitors. But the Obama camp says these ideas would be harmful in a general election.

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"I don't think that the Republican caucuses reflect mainstream views," Axelrod said of the further-right positions that GOP hopefuls are claiming this primary season. "The longer this race goes, the more you're going to see these Republican candidates mortgage their general-election campaign to try and win the nomination." In the meantime, he said, the long, protracted race to out-"right" one another is only helping the president.

A Grassroots Ground Game

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