Salena Zito

Obama’s team realizes its best-case scenario is that independents will split in 2012; he can’t carry a majority of them because his “moderate” course has not worked.

Team Obama decided in August, after the federal debt deal, that he got no credit for compromising, so they repositioned him.

Obama needs roughly 80 percent of the Democrat base to win, according to one Washington-based party strategist who has had a hand in successful national elections. “He is currently in the mid 60s,” he contends.

If the president drastically improves his base numbers, he can go after independents by explaining why he is the safe alternative for the country. Selling such a message relies heavily on his strong likability in opinion polls.

Netroot Nation’s Bonin believes that, in pursuing his base, Obama must support marriage equity: “We are a year now since he said he was evolving on gay marriage. I wish he would evolve already.”

Democrats in the middle are less thrilled about the president moving left, however.

“My opinion is that that is not going to help him in Middle America,” said U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, a Democrat whose southwestern Pennsylvania district is a post-card portrait of Main Street America.

Obama can succeed if the Republican field moves so far to the right that independents have nowhere to go. Yet such a strategy is tough; Bush never lost his base the way Obama has as of today, and Obama has a lot more ground to make up than Bush did in 2004.

“Plus, he is facing a nasty economy,” says the D.C. strategist. “The question really is, how much does the current team realize they are in trouble?”

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.