GOP: President Obama beatable in 2012

A growing contingent of Republican lawmakers and strategists believe President Obama has become more politically vulnerable and, because of that, are encouraging more GOP candidates to enter the presidential race.

“In recent weeks, as economic news has continued to worsen, Republicans have begun to think that President Obama is not just vulnerable, but beatable,” said Mark McKinnon, a former strategist to President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the 2008 GOP nominee.

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“And that’s why you are seeing candidates like Rick Perry, Rudy Giuliani and George Pataki testing the waters,” he added.

Republicans point to the president’s declining approval ratings and the disappointing economic recovery rate as the reasons behind their thinking. Also, several members of the party have expressed frustration with the current crop of contenders.

And there are echoes of the 1992 presidential election when then-President George H.W. Bush was considered unbeatable after his high approval ratings in the wake of the Gulf War. But Bill Clinton's campaign successfully made the message about the economy and won the White House. Republicans don’t want to miss out on a similar opportunity.

Lawmakers and strategists have different thoughts about who would be the best nominee. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) would like Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, to jump into the race. 

“The presidency is within our grasp; this is a very winnable election for Republicans. The wider the field, the better, I think,” Graham said. “The president’s vulnerability on the economy and, potentially, on national security, depending on what he does in Afghanistan and how we deal with Libya, is real.

“There are some other names out there — I think Rudy would be a good addition to the field,” he said.

William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard and an important player in GOP politics, shook up the field Monday when he said during a C-SPAN interview that Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) is “rethinking a bit” his decision not to run for president.

Thune on Tuesday denied a change of mind but acknowledged he has received encouragement to reconsider. 

“You get encouragement and as the field has thinned a little bit, people want to see it widen again,” he said. 

“It’s fair to say any Republican candidate or ultimate nominee is going to have a very strong argument to make against this administration’s policies when it comes to job creation and economic growth,” Thune said, noting that the unemployment numbers “have not been helpful to” Obama.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) wants Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, to join the scrum, as do several members of the Texas delegation.

Inhofe said he found last week’s primary debate in New Hampshire “bland” and would like Perry to get into the race.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) also wants Perry in the race.

“I know he’s seriously considering it, and I personally think that he’d be a great choice. I think right now, the Republican Party’s looking for a real leader to come out of the fray, and he has the narrative, in terms of creating more jobs than any other state,” he said.

Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) said prospective presidential candidates are likely encouraged by the weak economy and the failure of anyone among the current crop of front-runners to build a commanding lead.

“The prospect of a stagnant economy in 2012 clearly, from a political standpoint, benefits Republicans — from an economic standpoint, it’s a downer for America,” he said. “I’m sure that’s going to give people who are still contemplating whether or not to run more interest to decide yes [rather] than no.”

Republicans have noticed a substantial dip in Obama’s job approval in recent days.

A Gallup tracking poll showed Tuesday that Obama’s job approval rating had sunk four points, to 45 percent, while his disapproval rating climbed five ticks, to 48 percent.

And Obama suffered a setback when the Labor Department reported the economy added only 54,000 jobs in May and the unemployment rate climbed to 9.1 percent.

The administration downplayed the disappointing numbers as “bumps on the road to recovery,” but they could drag down his reelection campaign.

Kevin Madden, a senior adviser to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s 2008 campaign, said Republican base voters have always thought Obama was beatable, but now the GOP political class is also coming around to that view.

“People caught up in the day-to-day of polling and interpreting, they have become increasingly convinced the president is beatable,” Madden said. “That feeling has evolved among the political class, because they look at everything in six-month snapshots.”

Some Republicans have grumbled about the quality of the current field and what they see as various flaws.

Conservatives have lingering suspicions over Romney, who once supported abortion-rights laws and signed into law a state healthcare reform plan that contains similarities to the healthcare law Obama signed.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has been criticized for lacking charisma and was mocked for shying away from confronting Romney over the Massachusetts healthcare reform law during last week’s presidential debate.

Romney, Pawlenty and other presidential hopefuls have reached out to Republican senators to begin recruiting their support. But, so far, most lawmakers have remained noncommittal, at least publicly.

Michael O’Brien contributed.