Obama’s ‘bin Laden bump’ might not dash hopes of 2012 GOPers

Republicans say candidates on the fence about a 2012 presidential bid won’t be dissuaded by a bump in the polls for President Obama, whose approval ratings are expected to spike in the aftermath of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

“He had a good weekend and he’s the commander in chief. So he’ll have short-term gain from this,” GOP pollster Jim McLaughlin conceded. “But the overriding issue is still the economy, and he’s no less vulnerable on that.”

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Obama made the dramatic announcement of bin Laden’s death in a national address late Sunday night, calling it “the most significant event to date in our nation’s efforts to defeat al Qaeda.”

Politically, most observers agree, the timing couldn’t have been much better for the president, whose approval rating had bottomed out in several recent polls in presidential battleground states. Nationally, the latest Gallup tracking numbers have Obama’s approval at 46 percent. 

It also comes as several potential GOP presidential hopefuls enter the final stages in their decisionmaking over whether to get into the 2012 race.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty appear certain to launch formal campaigns in the coming weeks, but Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Ambassador Jon Huntsman are among those who haven’t indicated their plans. 

McLaughlin said he doesn’t expect what some are calling the “bin Laden bump” to affect any of the 2012 fence-sitters.

“I don’t think that’s going to be the case at all,” he said. “I think everybody’s mature enough politically to realize that this will be short-term, because that’s how these things historically tend to go.”

In the polling world it’s known as the “rally effect,” which Gallup defines as “a sharp uptick in a president’s ratings as a result of a high-visibility news event involving the U.S.” And, as Gallup’s Frank Newport noted Monday, it’s almost always temporary.

Still, pollster John Zogby isn’t as sure that some of the result won’t linger through the fall of 2012 and says it could offer some of the GOP fence-sitters yet another reason to put their presidential aspirations off for four years, when they wouldn’t face an incumbent commander in chief.

“Historically, this ranks with VE Day in the public’s mind,” said Zogby, drawing a comparison to the day in May 1945 when Nazi Germany surrendered to Allied forces, ending World War II. 

In more recent history, Zogby said the event could do for Obama what the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing did for former President Bill Clinton. Clinton’s speech in the wake of Oklahoma City was well received by voters, resulting in a bump in Clinton’s ratings at a time when he desperately needed one. 

Zogby predicts Obama’s bump in approval could be as high as 10 points, but, more importantly, “He will forever be known as the president who nailed Osama bin Laden, and that’s no small thing,” he said.  

Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele also warned potential GOP candidates against second-guessing a 2012 bid because of the likely boost in Obama’s ratings.

“I think they would be making a mistake” if a potential candidate decided not to enter the race, Steele said Monday on ABC’s “Top Line” webcast. “I think the ‘92 presidential proved that.”

In the aftermath of the first Gulf War in 1991, former President George H.W. Bush’s approval numbers skyrocketed, reaching as high as 87 percent in the spring of the year before the election. It scared off many top Democrats who were weighing a run against Bush in ‘92, paving the way for then-Arkansas Gov. Clinton to win the Democratic nomination and oust Bush.

Republican pollster Glen Bolger said Obama’s poll bump could exceed 15 points and will exert some impact on 2012, but for any potential presidential candidates considering not running next year, think former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo (D). 

“For people still trying to make a decision on 2012, I would say look at Bill Clinton and Mario Cuomo in 1991,” Bolger said, noting that while the latter famously agonized over a decision on the ‘92 race, worrying Bush would be too tough to beat, the other didn’t hesitate and went on to serve two terms as president. 

Another potential consequence for Obama, McLaughlin said, is that the killing of bin Laden could ratchet up tensions with liberals over the war in Afghanistan.

“I really think this means more calls from the left to get out of Afghanistan, get out of Iraq,” he said. “And it doesn’t look like we’re going anywhere anytime soon.”

Jordan Fabian contributed reporting.


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