Spin Cycle

02.04.13

Obama's Offense Facing Super Blackout

The president's surge could be blocked by the GOP's dogged defense

The Baltimore Ravens were on an incredible roll before an inexplicable electricity outage stopped their momentum and nearly cost them the Super Bowl.

Is President Obama, having surged in the polls after winning reelection, hitting a similar power shortage?

Can he carry the legislative ball into the end zone against a prevent defense swarming with arm-waving Republicans?

The football analogy is admittedly strained, but Obama’s offense has yet to show it can put points on the board when it counts.

He has good field position, to be sure. The president ran up an early lead by forcing the GOP to accept higher taxes on the wealthy in last month’s fiscal cliff showdown. He has staked out the high ground on immigration reform and gun control.

And in the political equivalent of a halftime show—albeit with lower ratings—the president gets the stage to himself next week for his State of the Union address.

But gaining ground on Capitol Hill is another matter entirely.

Obama has done a superlative job of tapping into the emotions surrounding the Newtown tragedy to aggressively push stricter controls on guns. But almost no one now believes that he can get an assault weapons ban through the imposing front line of the NRA. Only one administration provision, extending background checks to gun show sales, seems to have a chance of passage.

The president has also been eloquent about bringing the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants out of the shadows, and on this he has a group of Senate Republicans willing to play ball with their Democratic counterparts.   

But here too, the fighting in the trenches—the timing of pairing tougher border security with a path to legalization for those already here—could upend any compromise. The administration’s best hope is that Republicans are nervous about losing their remaining Hispanic fans.

As for the budgetary battles that went into overtime on New Year’s Eve, Obama is no closer to victory. All he’s done is reschedule the big game for the spring.

Obama, a big sports fan, plays well on the road. He pitched immigration reform in Las Vegas last week, and on Monday he’s in Minneapolis to talk up gun control. It helps to rally public opinion, but members of Congress have their own peculiar needs. Now some Democrats are complaining that Obama doesn’t reach out to them, Politico reports.

On paper, the odds clearly favor the president. His approval rating hit 60 percent in a recent Washington Post poll, while an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey puts the Republicans at 26 percent approval, and Congress, according to Gallup, has sunk to 14 percent.

The president has a flair for the big, dramatic play. But winning in Congress is usually about three yards and a cloud of dust. If Obama can’t improve his ground game, he could end up like the San Francisco 49ers, just short of the goal line.