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As the 2012 race takes shape, the man that Republicans hope to beat, President Barack Obama, is looking more vulnerable with each passing day. The debt ceiling negotiations have collapsed his numbers, and recent Gallup polling shows him with just a 24 percent approval rating of his handling of the federal budget deficit. His numbers on the economy and job creation are similarly dismal, with approval hovering at 26 percent and 29 percent, respectively. In the other areas tracked by Gallup, his popularity has waned considerably — on Afghanistan, education, and foreign affairs, his approval is at 38 percent, 41 percent, and 42 percent, roughly a 10 point decline in each category from May of this year. Terrorism is the one issue on which the president has a majority approval rating, but even that number, 53 percent, is down 10 points from May, and is conspicuously low, given the recent death of Osama bin Laden. Worse still, there is little upside for the president when the numbers are broken down by party affiliation — there isn’t a single area in which 50 percent or more of independents approve of Obama’s job performance.

With 14 months still to go before the election, job approval ratings are an unreliable indicator of re-election chances, but it is worth noting that with 40 percent approving and 53 percent disapproving, Obama’s Gallup numbers are lower than any other incumbent presidential candidate’s were at the 14-month mark, with the exception of Jimmy Carter (who would go on to lose his re-election fight decisively to Ronald Reagan). It’s no surprise, therefore, that the president is making bus stop tours of swing states — if his numbers don’t show any improvement between now and March, then Obama will find himself on the unenviable side of a historical trend. Only one incumbent president, Harry Truman, has been re-elected with a less than 50 percent approval rating with 8 months of campaigning to go — all others with a less-than-majority approval failed in their re-election bids.

With that said, the current field of Republican presidential candidates does not appear particularly threatening to President Obama. Currently, the likelihood is that Obama will face either Rick Perry or Mitt Romney in the general election — InTrade, a leading prediction market, places the odds of a Perry or Romney candidacy at 35 percent and 31 percent respectively. Jon Huntsman, Michelle Bachmann, Paul Ryan, and Sarah Palin (the latter two not currently running) constitute most of the residual probability, sharing (more or less evenly) a 21 percent chance of being the eventual nominee. In head-to-head polling, Obama beats most of these candidates handily; against Romney, the president enjoys a 3-to-4-point margin, and against the rest, the president has a double-digit lead. These positive polling numbers seem to offset Obama’s low approval ratings; InTrade places the president’s odds of re-election at slightly better than half.

In other races, the outlook is more positive for Republicans. Currently, InTrade gives a 65 and 70 percent likelihood to Republicans retaining control of the House and taking control of the Senate. This reflects a series of polls in recent months showing a 3-7 point advantage for generic Republicans over generic Democrats in congressional ballots.

It’s 438 days until Election Day, and this is The State of the Race.

—Keith Yost