STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And let's hear one more number. In a CBS/New York Times poll released on Friday, more than half the respondents, 54 percent, said that President Obama does not deserve to be re-elected.
The president appeared on CBS last night, telling "60 Minutes" why he thought he would win the job again, despite that number. And we're going to talk about that and more with NPR's Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Mondays.
Cokie, good morning.
COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: OK, how do you win re-election when most people tell pollsters you don't deserve it?
ROBERTS: Well, and close to 70 percent in that same poll said that the president hasn't made progress in fixing the economy. And you remember back in 2009, a couple of weeks after the inauguration, he said that, quote, "if I don't have this done in three years, then there's going to be a one-term proposition."
But now instead of running on his record, he's running against his opponent, whomever he or she may be. Here's the president on "60 Minutes" last night.
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The contrast of visions between where I want to take the country and where they say they want to take the country, is going to be stark, and the American people are going to have a good choice and it's going to be a good debate.
ROBERTS: In other words, whatever you think of me and what I've done or haven't done, I'm better than the other guy. And he quoted Vice President Joe Biden as saying you're not running against the almighty, you're running against the alternative, and the Democrats are feeling pretty smug when they look at the current Republican field.
INSKEEP: Which we all got a chance to look at on Saturday night, their most recent debate, their most watched so far, and one in which Newt Gingrich was the front-runner going in.
ROBERTS: And seems to be the front-runner coming out. Recent NBC polls released over the weekend show him with double digit leads in South Carolina and Florida, the primaries soon after Iowa and New Hampshire. And Saturday night he stayed above the fray. He didn't get rattled and he got off a couple of good lines, that the only reason Romney was not a career politician was that he lost to Ted Kennedy.
And Romney did nothing to help himself by offering a $10,000 bet to Rick Perry, challenging Perry's assertions about Romney's health care bill. And immediately, both Perry and the Democrats started getting out ads saying $10,000, you know, this is what $10,000 would buy, showing Romney out of touch with Republican voters.
INSKEEP: Well, Cokie, let me ask about Mitt Romney. People have presumed all along, the political insiders have presumed all along, that he's likely to be the Republican nominee, even as candidate after candidate after candidate after candidate has surged past him and then fallen back again. Gingrich is the latest. We're getting quite close to the primaries and caucuses now. Why are people just not assuming that Gingrich would be the guy at this point?
ROBERTS: Well, because the people who know him, particularly Republicans here in Washington, are very wary of him. They keep using the word undisciplined. They all have personal stories they can tell about something that he has done or said that was not something that would sit well in the Oval Office. And now they're beginning to come out and to write columns or to make statements.
But, you know, they're doing it with some trepidation. They don't really want to make an enemy of him and they're hoping that Gingrich sort of does himself in. But that sense is waning as it gets closer to the Iowa caucuses. And I think there's panic rising in the Republican ranks about any of their candidates. They thought Romney would be a lot better than he is, and they're worried President Obama's right when he says compare me to the alternative and I win.
INSKEEP: OK. Who else is available?
ROBERTS: Well, the Republicans in Iowa are clearly looking at Ron Paul, and given the Republican Iowa history, I say don't count out Rick Santorum. But, you know, Iowa doesn't pick the winner. They usually give momentum to someone who's in the second or third position. This year it might be that all Iowa does is convince the party that Romney really can't win, and then they start looking desperately for someone else.
And that's, of course, what Jon Huntsman, who is nowhere in the polls, is counting on. And he and Newt Gingrich, today, will have a Lincoln-Douglas debate in New Hampshire. We'll see how that goes.
INSKEEP: OK. Thanks very much, as always. That's NPR's Cokie Roberts.
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INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.