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By Jay Cost

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The Plusses and Minuses of Campaigning

Earlier this week, I argued that the President was taking a bit of a risk by heading out on the campaign trail in support of the bill. It might enable him to get in front of his political opponents - making full use of the bully pulpit - but it might also be difficult to reconcile the image of the President to the campaigner-in-chief.

So, some upsides and some downsides. After a week of campaigning for the bill, we've seen a bit of both from the President.

First, huge upside - there's evidence that it helped the stimulus bill. From Rasmussen Reports:

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 44% of U.S. voters now support the plan while 40% are opposed. A week ago, just 37% favored the legislation, and 43% were opposed.

House and Senate negotiators are putting the final touches on a plan now expected to cost $789 billion and hope to have the president sign it into law on Monday.

The latest data shows that support for the president is closely linked to support for the stimulus plan. Among those who Strongly Approve of Obama's job performance, 84% favor the stimulus plan, and four percent (4%) are opposed. Among those who Somewhat Approve of the president's performance, 39% favor the stimulus plan, while 30% are opposed.

It's unclear whether the stumping brought the President any more votes in Congress - but I'm not sure that matters. The President doesn't want the country souring on his first major legislative measure, which is what appeared to have been happening. By stumping for it this week, it looks like he boosted its numbers at least for a few days, which is all that matters. The bill will pass today and public debate on it will effectively end with the country being in favor of it.

The downside I suggested this week is one that would only come (assuming it ever does) after a while. How will the country react to a President who persistently hits the campaign trail? We don't know yet. But of course one of the problems with the campaign trail is that the chances for gaffes increases, and the President had a non-trivial one:

President Obama today repeated the claim we asked about yesterday at the press briefing that Jim Owens, the CEO of Caterpillar, Inc., "said that if Congress passes our plan, this company will be able to rehire some of the folks who were just laid off."

Caterpillar announced 22,000 layoffs last month.

But after the president left the event, Owens said the exact opposite.

Asked if the stimulus package would be able to stop the 22,000 layoffs or not, Owens said, "I think realistically no. The truth is we're going to have more layoffs before we start hiring again"

"It is going to take some time before that stimulus bill" means re-hiring, he said.

Whoops. And the mix-up concerns jobs as opposed to daises or bunnyrabbits - so it's one of those mistakes that people will notice. That's the sort of thing that is bound to happen on the campaign trail, even if you're the President.

This week, I'd say, definite net plus for the President on the campaign trail. Whether or not we'll be able to say that about every week he's stumping for his legislative program remains to be seen. And I'd note that the White House sees more campaigning in the near future:

Obama plans to travel more and campaign more in an effort to pressure lawmakers with public support, rather than worrying about whether he can win over Republican votes in Congress. Officials suggested that the new, more partisan tone Obama embraced last week in his speech before House Democrats at their retreat and continued at his news conference Monday was what he should have been doing all along.

Welcome to the permanent campaign!

-Jay Cost