By Sam Youngman - 08/22/09 08:10 PM EDT
Obama's first term in office now revolves around his top domestic agenda item, and if it fails, his administration will likely be considered a failure heading into next year's midterms and beyond.
Along those lines, the survey showed that 49 percent "now say they think he will be able to spearhead significant improvements in the system, down nearly 20 percentage points from before he took office."
Obama's right-track-wrong-track numbers are also going the same way even as the president has visibly gone on offense to try to sell his healthcare policy by doing more town halls.
And those were some of the highlights of the week's polling for the White House. Rasmussen this week showed Obama's approval number dropping to 49 percent while Zogby put it at 45 percent.
But the GOP offensive on healthcare and the Democrats' inability or unwillingness to stay on the same page has clearly taken its toll on the Obama administration overall.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs acknowledged Friday that healthcare "is a complex issue and that healthcare reform has never been easy and that this process is one that is messy."
Gibbs argued that Obama continues to enjoy "a fairly healthy" overall approval number, but he said the White House will "continue to evaluate" what effect the healthcare debate is having on the president's popularity.
"So we'll certainly continue to look at them, but the president will continue to make decisions on what he believes is important and the steps that have to be taken on the economy or on our national security or on health care based on what he thinks is in the country's best interest," Gibbs said. "Whether or not it starts out or at the midpoint is less popular, that's our job to fix."
If Gibbs and the rest of the White House believe that "misinformation" on healthcare, like "death panels," is creating a drag on the president's popularity, then his 10-day vacation will likely be a cause for heartburn.
Even though the White House has said that it will put surrogates out front on the issue while Obama is at Martha's Vineyard, his opponents will likely seize on his absence to continue their assault.
Gibbs said that the president has made "some discernible progress" in pushing back on the smear campaign and "mistruths," and Obama "is going to continue to be out front in September and October in trying to get something done."
But that might not be enough.
The president had much of Washington either laughing or scratching its head Thursday when he said that the city at the end of August "gets all wee-weed up." Gibbs explained that the odd euphemism for "bed-wetting" means that Washington is in "an August pundit pattern between people getting overly nervous for something that still has a long way to go."
If healthcare gets any more bogged down and the president numbers go with it, bed-wetting might be the least of his concerns.