Axelrod confident Obama could survive primary challenge

White House senior adviser David Axelrod expressed confidence Monday that President Obama would be able to swat away a potential primary challenger in 2012.

Axelrod — who will return to Chicago early next year to help coordinate Obama's reelection campaign — told Newsweek that the president's support among rank-and-file Democrats remains high despite several clashes the White House has had with the liberal base.

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"We’ll see what happens as time rolls on," Axelrod said when asked about the possibility of a primary. "There may be segments of our party that are unhappy about various things, but rank-and-file Democrats support this president. And rank-and-file Democrats are going to make the decision in 2012."

Axelrod's comments show that Obama's team is at least preparing for the possibility of a primary challenge from a disgruntled Democrat.

Liberals have criticized the White House for allowing Congress to eliminate the public health insurance option from their sweeping reform law and for pushing a tax compromise that extends all the Bush tax cuts for two years, including those for the wealthy, sparking talk that a liberal politician could challenge the president in 2012.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs in August encapsulated the frustration the administration sometimes feels with its supporters when he lashed out against the "professional left." And during a press conference defending the tax deal this month, the president slammed his liberal critics for being "sanctimonious" in their opposition to the tax deal.

But so far, politicians who could challenge Obama have not taken the bait. Liberal Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who was defeated in November, and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) have both said they will not run against Obama, as have consumer advocate Ralph Nader and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.

Centrist Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), who has criticized the Obama White House, has also ruled out a run for president in 2012.

In fact, one of the only people to say he is contemplating a campaign against Obama is former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-Alaska), a long-shot candidate who ran in 2008.

Axelrod said that polling bolsters his confidence in Obama's chances of surviving a potential primary challenge.

"There was a public poll out recently that said the president had an 80 percent approval rating among Democrats and virtually no negatives," he said. "That’s a pretty good place to start your reelection campaign."