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CBS: 'Troubling Signs' for Obama, Like Bush in '92, But President 'Cannot Control' Economy

On Friday's CBS This Morning, Jan Crawford spotlighted that "the economic and political climate today is more similar to years when incumbent presidents lost than when they won." The correspondent pointed out the similarity between polling numbers today and in 1992, when George H.W. Bush was running for reelection: "Gallup has asked voters whether they're satisfied with the way things in the country are going. Today, only 24 percent say they're satisfied. That's closest to the 20 percent low in May 1992."

Despite this, anchor Charlie Rose tried to shift the blame away from President Obama: "It looks like this is a situation where President Obama fears most the thing he cannot control, which is the economy."

Crawford devoted much of her report to putting the close race between Obama and Mitt Romney into a historical context, and particularly zeroed-in on the 1992 election:

CRAWFORD: Going into the summer, polls have the candidates in a statistical dead heat, but as any previous candidate will tell you, polls in May don't mean much in November. In May 2004, the last time a sitting president ran for reelection, George W. Bush was losing by eight points to John Kerry. But after a tough campaign on national security and growing economic confidence, Bush won. By contrast, his father was the incumbent in 1992, and in May of that year, he was leading Bill Clinton. But over the summer, Americans' confidence in the economy dropped, and George H. W. Bush lost his lead and the White House.

The CBS journalist then played two soundbites from Major Garrett of the National Journal, who explained that "President Obama is weaker than Jimmy Carter, who lost; stronger than George Herbert Walker Bush, who lost; and weaker than every modern American president who sought reelection and won. They were all above 50 percent approval. The President is not. He's around 46 percent. That's a danger zone."

Near the end of the segment, Crawford pointed out the similar Gallup poll numbers between Obama in 2012 and Bush in 1992, but added that "there is some good news out there for the President. Voters say they like President Obama, that he seems more likeable and seems to care more about average Americans."

Rose brought on CBS political director John Dickerson after the report, and began with his Obama "cannot control the economy" the statement. Dickerson replied, "That's exactly right," but then took a similar path as Crawford in highlighting the negative historical context for the President:

DICKERSON: The lesson of history is that if voters blame you for their economic troubles, you're not going to have a second inauguration. For the last three incumbent presidents - Ford, Carter, and Bush in 1992 - the unemployment rate was at about 7.6 [percent]. Well, it's at 8.1 today, and no president has won reelection with an unemployment rate above 7.2 percent.

ROSE: So does that mean that the Obama forces and the Obama campaign has to tear down the Romney narrative more than build up their own?

DICKERSON: That's right. They've got to do two things: one, try and convince voters to stop looking at the present and think about the future. Voters are a little bit brighter and sunnier about the future. But the other thing they've got to do is what you focus on, which is disqualify Mitt Romney as an alternative, and that's part of what George W. Bush did in his reelection campaign, which is disqualify John Kerry on the national security question. What the problem - and the difference for President Obama is - George W. Bush had pretty good ratings on the question of who can handle the question of terror, which was top of mind. President Obama's ratings on economy, the top of mind issue for voters, are quite bad.

The full transcript of the Jan Crawford and John Dickerson segments from Friday's CBS This Morning, which ran back-to-back starting 10 minutes into the 7 am Eastern hour:

CHARLIE ROSE: Now to presidential politics: on Thursday, Democrats opened a new attack on Mitt Romney, focusing on his one term as governor of Massachusetts nearly ten years ago.

ERICA HILL: As we've reported, new polls show Romney gaining ground on President Obama. So, what do those polls mean? We have five more months of this campaigning to go.

Jan Crawford has some answers for us. Jan, good morning.

[CBS News Graphic: "Poll Position: Comparing Obama-Romney To Past Races"]

JAN CRAWFORD: Well, good morning, Erica. I mean, polls - they don't predict things. They just kind of reflect where people are on the day they're taken. So yeah, we've got these polls. The recent polls - they may look promising for Mitt Romney, but we also see the President working really hard to change that.

CRAWFORD (voice-over): Campaigning last night in Iowa, President Obama continued to hammer Mitt Romney for his time as head of a successful private equity firm.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (from campaign event): There may be value for that kind of experience, but it's not in the White House. (audience cheers and applauds)

CRAWFORD: Romney's campaign events in West Philadelphia focused on education, what he called the civil rights issue of our time.

Going into the summer, polls have the candidates in a statistical dead heat, but as any previous candidate will tell you, polls in May don't mean much in November. In May 2004, the last time a sitting president ran for reelection, George W. Bush was losing by eight points to John Kerry. But after a tough campaign on national security and growing economic confidence, Bush won. By contrast, his father was the incumbent in 1992, and in May of that year, he was leading Bill Clinton. But over the summer, Americans' confidence in the economy dropped, and George H. W. Bush lost his lead and the White House.

MAJOR GARRETT, NATIONAL JOURNAL WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anything that hurts the U.S. economy right now does not help the President.

CRAWFORD: According to Gallup, the economic and political climate today is more similar to years when incumbent presidents lost than when they won.

GARRETT: At this stage of his presidency, seeking re-election, President Obama is weaker than Jimmy Carter, who lost; stronger than George Herbert Walker Bush, who lost; and weaker than every modern American president who sought reelection and won. They were all above 50 percent approval. The President is not. He's around 46 percent. That's a danger zone.

CRAWFORD: There are other troubling signs for the President. For 20 years, Gallup has asked voters whether they're satisfied with the way things in the country are going. Today, only 24 percent say they're satisfied. That's closest to the 20 percent low in May 1992 in George H.W. Bush's only term.

[CBS News Graphic: "Satisfied With Direction Of The U.S.: May 2012, 24%; May 1992, 20%; Source: Gallup Poll"]

CRAWFORD: (on-camera): Now, for winning presidents, like George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, those numbers were higher. More Americans were satisfied with how things in the country were going. But there is some good news out there for the President. Voters say they like President Obama, that he seems more likeable and seems to care more about average Americans. So, we've got these strengths; we've got the weaknesses; all of this makes this race going into the summer a toss-up.

ROSE: Jan Crawford, thank you very much. Also in Washington, CBS News political director John Dickerson. John, good morning.

JOHN DICKERSON: Good morning, Charlie.

ROSE: It looks like this is a situation where President Obama fears most the thing he cannot control, which is the economy.

[CBS News Graphic: "Race For The White House: Where Campaign Stands Heading Into Memorial Day"]

DICKERSON: That's exactly right. I mean, the lesson of history is that if voters blame you for their economic troubles, you're not going to have a second inauguration. For the last three incumbent presidents - Ford, Carter, and Bush in 1992 - the unemployment rate was at about 7.6 [percent]. Well, it's at 8.1 today, and no president has won reelection with an unemployment rate above 7.2 percent.

ROSE: So does that mean that the Obama forces and the Obama campaign has to tear down the Romney narrative more than build up their own?

[CBS News Graphic: "Race For The White House: Breaking Down Obama-Romney Strategies"]

DICKERSON: That's right. They've got to do two things: one, try and convince voters to stop looking at the present and think about the future. Voters are a little bit brighter and sunnier about the future. But the other thing they've got to do is what you focus on, which is disqualify Mitt Romney as an alternative, and that's part of what George W. Bush did in his reelection campaign, which is disqualify John Kerry on the national security question. What the problem - and the difference for President Obama is, George W. Bush had pretty good ratings on the question of who can handle the question of terror, which was top of mind. President Obama's ratings on economy, the top of mind issue for voters, are quite bad.

[CBS News Graphic: "Satisfied With Country's Direction? May: 2012: Barack Obama, 24%; 2004: George W. Bush, 36%; 1996: Bill Clinton, 37%; 1992: George H.W. Bush, 20%; Source: Gallup Poll"]

ERICA HILL: When it comes to that narrative that they're trying to paint of Mitt Romney with Bain Capital, there's been a lot of talk about the response Mitt Romney has had to that. Is he going to change that narrative, to try to focus on the positives for him?

DICKERSON: Well, Mitt Romney's going to do two things on the Bain question: one, he's going to change the topic. He's going to say, I had 25 years in business; and then, move on and go back to the President's record. The Romney campaign wants one thing: this election to be a referendum, a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on President Obama's stewardship of the economy, and they'll always continue to go back to that. But his other - the other thing Mitt Romney will do is talk about it, to the extent he has to, about Bain, to say, I have special knowledge about the economy: I turned companies around; I turned the Olympics around; I turned Massachusetts around; and pitch himself as a turn-around expert in a time when the economy needs turning around.
           
[CBS News Graphic: "The Washington Post/ABC News Poll: Presidential Race: Obama, 49%; Romney, 46%; Margin of Error: +/- 3.5%"]

ROSE: One thing different this year seems to be that the Romney campaign responds immediately to attacks, while John Kerry did not.

DICKERSON: That's right, although they do respond quickly and in different ways. They have the candidate do it sometimes, and they have - they've put out videos on others. What they want to do is, basically, have Romney stick on the economy, though. So sometimes, the response will come from other quarters.

ROSE: John Dickerson, thank you.

— Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.