Even as President Obama faces a tough battle over the signature accomplishment of his administration at the Supreme Court, his political fortunes are improving.
A new ABC News-Washington Post poll shows the president's favorability rating above 50 percent - 53 percent to be exact - compared to 43 percent who view him unfavorably.
As ABC News' pollster Gary Langer notes, "It's Obama's third consecutive month with a rating more than 50 percent positive, after dipping to 47 percent in September, the lowest of his presidency."
But compare the president's rating to that of his likely GOP opponent, Mitt Romney, and it's plain to see why they're smiling in the White House and at Obama's re-election headquarters in Chicago.
Just 34 percent of Americans in the new poll have a favorable opinion of Romney - "the lowest for any leading presidential candidate in ABC/Post polls in primary seasons since 1984."
The 19 point gap between Obama and Romney on the favorability scale stings even more for Republicans on the same morning that a new poll of swing state voters gives Obama his best showing of the election cycle in three key states.
Fresh numbers from Quinnipiac University show Obama leading Romney in head-to-head match-ups in Florida and Ohio. In Pennsylvania, the two contenders are in a statistical tie.
Florida: Obama 49 percent/ Romney 42 percent
Ohio: Obama 47 percent/ Romney 41 percent
Pennsylvania: Obama 45 percent/ Romney 42
But ABC's Devin Dwyer points out that the president remains vulnerable on the economy, which voters said was their top issue. Romney has the edge in Florida and Pennsylvania on who would do a better job handling the economy.
Florida: Romney 48 percent/ Obama 45
Ohio: Romney 45 percent/ Obama 45
Pennsylvania: Romney 48 percent/ Obama 42
However, Quinnipiac pollster Peter A. Brown notes that the economy is actually "the biggest reason for the president's improving prospects."
"Roughly six in 10 voters in all three states think the economy is recovering," he said. "Moreover, voters blame the oil companies and oil-producing countries for the rise in gasoline prices and only about one in six voters blame them on President Obama."
On "Good Morning America" today, ABC's Jonathan Karl discussed both good and bad news for President Obama in the new polls. WATCH: http://abcn.ws/GVDVLA
GINGRICH: DEAD MAN WALKING? His campaign in debt and his poll numbers sliding, Newt Gingrich is down but not prepared to say he is out, ABC's Jonathan Karl reports. Facing a big cash crunch, Gingrich is cutting his staff by one-third, replacing his campaign manager and reducing his travel. The moves were first reported by Politico this evening and confirmed to ABC News by Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond. Hammond, like others around Gingrich, insists this is not a precursor to Gingrich dropping out. Instead, he says, Gingrich is preparing to do battle at the Republican convention. He will also compete selectively in the states ahead where he thinks he can pick up delegates - especially Texas, where he has the endorsement of Rick Perry.
THE DAMAGE: Gingrich staffers confirmed to ABC News' Russell Goldman that the former House speaker had shaken up the top tiers of his staff, including replacing campaign manager Michael Krull with Vince Haley, a longtime Gingrich advisor. Earlier Tuesday in Annapolis, Maryland, Gingrich told reporters "the money is very tight obviously" and suggested his communications staff would soon announce a series of lay-offs. In recent days, many of the reporters from the country's major print publication stopped routinely following Gingrich. And Monday night in Delaware, Gingrich charged supporters $50 to have a photo taken with him. "Clearly, we are going to have to go on a fairly tight budget to get from here to Tampa," Gingrich said Tuesday. "But I think we can do it." http://abcn.ws/Hc0Pc7
OUTLOOK: Gingrich significantly cut back the number of scheduled campaign events he holds. Currently on his schedule, he only has one event a day for the next three days.
BOTTOM LINE: He's come back from the dead before. Survived a staff exodus. Has thrived when others where others have withered. But this time, Newt isn't coming back. First, and most important, Republican voters just aren't that in to him. In fact, they really, really don't like him. The latest CNN poll showed a whopping 60 percent of Republicans want him to drop out of the race. Then there's that pesky delegate issue. While most of the states left to vote distribute delegates proportionately, candidates need to reach a certain percentage of the vote to qualify for those delegates. In Louisiana, for example, the threshold was 25 percent. Gingrich took just 16 percent of the vote and, as such, left the Pelican State with zero delegates. That makes it all but impossible for Gingrich to rack up an impressive number of delegates between now and June.
SUPREME COURT JUSTICES SKEPTICAL OF INDIVIDUAL MANDATE. Two years after President Obama signed the signature achievement of his administration, the Affordable Care Act, the Supreme Court on Tuesday heard arguments about whether a key provision of the law is constitutional, ABC's Ariane de Vogue reports. In a courtroom stuffed with spectators, the justices focused intently on the individual mandate, the part of the law that requires most Americans to buy health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., who seemed at times nervous and hoarse, arguing on behalf of the law, told the justices that the health care law was passed to address a "fundamental and enduring problem" in that millions of Americans were unable to get health care. But the conservatives on the bench had some tough questions for the government lawyer. Justice Anthony Kennedy got right to the core of argument. "Can you create commerce in order to regulate it?" he asked, referring to an argument from the challengers of the law who say that while Congress can regulate interstate commerce, it cannot force someone into the marketplace. Kennedy suggested that the law which requires "the individual citizen" to act " is different from what we have in previous cases and that changes the relationship of the Federal Government to the individual in the very fundamental way." Verrilli repeated that the law was not about forcing someone to buy a product, but regulating how it is paid for. http://abcn.ws/H02UM1
YESTERDAY'S TAKEAWAY: Assuming the four justices appointed by Democratic presidents vote to uphold mandate, at least one of the more conservative justices must vote with them in order for the mandate to survive. Yesterday, especially during the government's argument, that one vote did not seem clear. "Today certainly didn't go as well as the government would have hoped, "said Stephen I. Vladeck, Professor of Law at American University Washington College of Law. "But there's a reason why we don't count votes at the end of oral arguments. And indeed there's plenty of history to suggest that even though the justices at this moment are leaning toward striking it down, there's not a guarantee that where they are today is where they'll be in June. "Sometimes oral arguments are as much about convincing yourself that the other side is wrong as it is about convincing yourself that your side is right." http://abcn.ws/HaC32u
SANTORUM CLAIMS A TWO-PERSON RACE. Rick Santorum said he understands the financial pressures that led Newt Gingrich to cut a third of his staff and to scale back on his campaign events, and said the news this evening is more evidence that the Republican presidential chase is a two-person race, ABC's Arlette Saenz notes. "One of the things I was told very early on in presidential politics is that you run for president as long as the money hangs on. Obviously, financially, it's tough. I can certainly understand that," Santorum told reporters at the Waterfront Pub & Eatery. "I don't know what his plans are," he said. "As I've said before, we're going to run the race irrespective of who's in and who's out. I think what we're seeing is the race is clearly becoming a two-person race. I've seen polls here in Wisconsin showing that. We're just going to stay focused. "Newt's a good man, as you know and a good friend. I just wish him the best with whatever he decides to do," Santorum added. http://abcn.ws/GVoY7C
NOTED: New polls in both Wisconsin, which holds its primary on April 3, and Pennsylvania, which votes on April 24, show Romney either ahead or gaining on Santorum. It's possible Santorum's candidacy could survive a loss in Wisconsin, but not in Pennsylvania - the state he represented in the House and Senate.
ROMNEY TALKS SANTORUM'S VEEP PROSPECTS WITH LENO. It wasn't all laughs for Mitt Romney during an interview with Jay Leno on the host's late night television show, during which Romney discussed delegate math, the war in Afghanistan and health care, ABC's Emily Friedman reports from Burbank, Calif. Sitting down for his fourth interview on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," Romney hit on many of the points he discusses daily on the campaign trail. One thing not talked about on the show? Cars, despite Romney and Leno's shared love for automobiles. On Rick Santorum criticizing him and suggesting he would be his vice president in the same week: "Well, you know, you're on all the time when you're running for office," Romney said. "Everything you say is being followed by, you know, a small camera of some kind that someone has. You don't always get every word just right. And so you have to give people a little bit of slack I think. In this case Rick Santorum is a good guy, he's running a good campaign. We have some differences in background and differences on some issues, but basically a good guy and, you know, I'm happy with him saying he'd like to be part of an administration with me, nothing wrong with that, if he's the VP that's better. I'd rather be the president let him be the vice president." http://abcn.ws/HkgVny
ROMNEY PLAYS WORD ASSOCIATION: When asked for one word to describe some of his potential V.P. picks, Romney said South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is "energetic," Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is an "American leader," U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan is "creative" and Donald Trump "huge." Asked about New Jersey Governor and backer Chris Christie, Romney said he is "indomitable." "He's a man of strong will. Great strength. Indomitable," Romney said. Leno, trying to bait Romney, added, "Man of girth." "Well, if you attack Chris Christie, you're going to get more than you bargained for. He's comes back hard, strong. Indomitable," Romney said, ignoring Leno's jab at Christie's weight. When Leno offered up Santorum's name, Romney responded, "Um, press secretary." http://abcn.ws/GVp3K8
BIDEN BLASTS ROMNEY ON JOBS. Vice President Joe Biden today will attack GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney over the importance of promoting American manufacturing, ABC's Devin Dwyer notes. In a speech at PCT Engineered Systems in Davenport, Iowa - the third stop on a debut campaign tour - Biden will claim credit for a resurgence in the manufacturing sector under President Obama and suggest it wouldn't have happened if Romney was president. "To President Obama and me, rebuilding our manufacturing sector and rebuilding our country are one and the same," Biden will say, according to excerpts of his remarks released by the Obama campaign. "Mitt Romney has been remarkably consistent - as an individual investor, a businessman, as governor of Massachusetts, and now as a candidate for president. Remarkably consistent. Consistently wrong." http://abcn.ws/Hlhdc8
PRIMARY STATE SPEED READ
by ABC's Chris Good
- Romney Robocall in Wisconsin: Santorum Backs 'Big Labor.' The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that some Wisconsin voters are receiving robocalls, identified as paid for by Romney for President, Inc., in which a recorded voice tells them, "I wouldn't normally make these calls, but I was shocked to find out that Rick Santorum repeatedly supported Big Labor and joined with liberal Democrats in voting against Right to Work legislation during his time in Washington." Santorum said the calls have been going out since the Iowa caucuses. His defense: "My voting record with the AFL-CIO in the 16 years I was in Congress, which included representing maybe the heaviest labor district in the entire state of Pennsylvania-and as you know, Pennsylvania is a very heavy labor state-was 13%," Santorum told the paper. "So if that makes me the buddy of the big labor bosses you should tell the guy in the AFL-CIO who said calling Rick Santorum a big labor guy is like calling Mitt Romney a conservative." http://bit.ly/HbJW7O
-Gingrich Recognized in Maryland State House. Though it's among the more Democratic legislatures in the country, the Maryland state House recognized Newt Gingrich its the floor Tuesday as he toured the building. At the state Capitol, Gingrich briefly bumped into Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, whose proposed gas-tax increase he called "very, very anti-working American" while campaigning on the state. http://bsun.md/GUk2kW\
-Rick Santorum is on the trail in Wisconsin with three events in Sparta, La Crosse, and Onalaska.
-Vice President Biden is in Davenport, Iowa where he'll deliver a campaign speech at PCT Engineered Systems.
-Newt Gingrich is in Washington DC delivering remarks at Georgetown University. Callista Gingrich is in Wisconsin traveling from Whitehall to La Crosse and ending her day in Madison. She will hold a "Cocktails with Callista" event at The Madison Club.
-Ron Paul is campaigning in Maryland holding a "Youth for Ron Paul" event in College Park.
-ABC's Josh Haskell ( @HaskellBuzz)
Check out The Note's Futures Calendar: http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV
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