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Going Into 2012: President Obama vs. the Republicans

05/09/2011 12:00 pm ET | Updated Jul 09, 2011

With the capture of Osama bin Laden, President Obama as Campaigner-in-Chief is back. A refocus from the gloomy economy to national security is easily achieved ("issue reframing") and a bump in the polls will bring the president easily back as the master campaigner we once knew and who many had believed in. Last week was a political success for Obama, with a trip to Alabama (what a president should do), to a dynamite speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner (that effectively turned into a roast of Republican candidates, mostly Donald Trump) and then finally the pinnacle moment: announcing the death and retention of the body of Osama bin Laden.

Politics is a game of chess and to determine a victory for Obama at this point would be premature. The chessboard, however, is heavily dominated in his favor. But it still is early in the game.

Trump had a bad week last week. He was hit hard at the WHCD and then was forced into hiatus with news of bin Laden's death. This is not as bad news for Trump as it is for Mitt Romney. Why? As soon as Trump peaks in the national polls this means that Romney moves higher. And when Romney moves higher in the polls, he is all but certain to peak too soon.

Thus, the Republicans are left with three viable candidates for 2012: Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman, and Mitch Daniels (Huntsman leaning towards running and Daniels is unannounced at this point). Huntsman received some positive press this week in South Carolina and all three remain low in national polling. Yet this means little to nothing; national polling is a name recognition contest now: this is why Trump and Romney (and Huckabee) are so high in the national polls.

The dark horse to watch is Huntsman, but Pawlenty and Daniels present tough challenges. Huntsman will unlikely be strong in Iowa, but may be strong in New Hampshire and South Carolina (running a McCain type campaign). [I had first thought he would run a campaign with echoes of Teddy Roosevelt. His campaign, in its early stages, seems to have more echoes of Reagan.] Pawlenty will likely be a strong contender in Iowa. Daniels' strengths are still too early to be seen. With Haley Barbour out of the running, Daniels can possibly gain some of his inner circle, if he runs.

But last week was Obama's week. And the next few weeks will likely continue to be as well. The longer the president can keep the focus off the economy, the better. [It is "the economy, stupid." Thank you, Mr. Carville. But maybe we all just needed a little break and a shot in the arm.] And if positive American feelings can start to reinvigorate the economy, that will be great too. Maybe it truly can be morning again in America.

To contact the author, please visit: www.DavidHelfenbein.com