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Morning Jay: Just How Big a Deal Is Enthusiasm?

6:00 AM, May 20, 2011 • By JAY COST
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Again, Obama is a case in point of the limits of enthusiasm. His job approval number with Democrats has regularly been 80 percent or higher, which is very good. However, his overall job approval numbers have been much lower, typically under 50 percent, which makes it more difficult for him to exert pressure over Congress. That's because he has performed very poorly among independent voters for quite some time.

So, in my scan of the trajectory of the presidency -- primary battle, general election, governance -- the place where enthusiasm makes the most difference is in the primary battle. But it does not necessarily help the party as a whole in that situation. Instead, it can hurt the party and simply help a particular candidate. Enthusiasm can be useful to bring out the vote in a general election, but there are other ways to get that done. And once in office, enthusiasm is no substitute for the support of the middle electorate.

In conclusion, it is not necessarily a problem for Republicans if they are not tremendously enthused about their nominee next year. Conservative dislike of Obama will take care of any enthusiasm gap in the general election. What they need to find is a candidate who shares their values, who can appeal to the middle of the electorate, who will as president implement as much of the party's agenda as possible, and who can retain the support of the independents during his term. That candidate might turn out to be dull. But he'd still be a keeper. And very possibly a winner. 

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