The political geniuses around President Barack Obama have a problem: They do not - DO NOT - want this election to be a referendum on the President.
And, for good reason. According to the three-day Gallup tracking poll, Obama's job approval is back down to 41 percent. Two months ago his approval bottomed at 38 percent, but he has not been at 50 percent job approval since May.
Gallup goes on to compare Obama's dismal performance rating with his predecessors. In December of their third year in office here's where they were:
-- Eisenhower (1955) 75%
-- Nixon (1971) 50%
-- Carter (1979) 53%
-- Reagan (1983) 54%
-- HW Bush (1991) 51%
-- Clinton (1995) 51%
-- W Bush (2003) 58%
No elected President in the past half-century has entered his re-election year underwater in approval.
Let's look at how the Obama campaign has chosen to shore up these numbers.
When the Super Committee was struggling to find any common ground to reduce deficits by just $120 billion per year, President Obama not only didn't provide leadership, he ran and hid so he couldn't be blamed for the inevitable failure.
He went to Guam and Australia, just about as far away from Washington as he could go and remain on the surface of the Earth.
Last week Obama went to Scranton, Pennsylvania to give a speech. Scranton, birthplace of Joe Biden and regional home to the Dunder Mifflin paper company.
Yesterday, he went to Osawatomie, Kansas - seriously - to give what has been billed as the first major speech of the 2012 campaign. Teddy Roosevelt gave a big speech in Osawatomie a couple of years ago and the White House thought that would send a strong signal as to Obama's new populist stance.
Rather than opening his campaign with a rousing call for Americans to unite, he set a strong tone of division by blaming Republicans - including Ronald Reagan - for the nation's economic woes.
His message was "Some people have too much. We need to take from them and give to people who don't have enough."
That doesn't sound so awful, until you begin to think about (a) who decides how much is too much; (b) how those who have too much got too much; and, (c) who decides how much of that too much will be taken away and given to those who have too little.
The Washington Post, not exactly a house organ for the Republican National Committee, took exception to Obama's blaming the deficit on the Bush tax cuts. The Post, in a Fact-Check piece pointing to a Congressional Budget Office study wrote: "The data showed that the biggest contributor to the disappearance of projected surpluses was increased spending, which accounted for 36.5 percent of the decline in the nation's fiscal position … The Bush tax cuts (along with some Obama tax cuts) were responsible for just 24 percent. "Thus it is simply wrong to only blame the Bush tax cuts for the deficits now faced by the country, especially three years into another presidential term." [italics mine]
Facts, as Reagan was reported to have said, are stubborn things.
Obama is going to run this campaign as if he is the challenger. It won't work. We know he has been President for nearly three years and they know that he is far more comfortable hanging back until the result is known than he is rolling up his sleeves and trying to forge a consensus.
They even have a name for it: Leading from Behind.
This will be a referendum on Barack Obama and he is running out of time to convince Americans he can actually step up and lead this nation.