- The Washington Times - Monday, February 1, 2016

In the past week he has delivered a major speech to fellow Democrats, announced a new retirement savings plan and computer science initiative — heck, he has even vowed a billion-dollar push to cure cancer. But President Obama just can’t catch a break.

Welcome to the end of the Obama presidency, when the most powerful man on earth is now a sideshow for the performers in the Republican and Democratic primaries, which began in earnest Monday with Iowa’s caucuses.

With the primary schedule now in full swing and voting this month in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, Congress, the press and the public at large have turned their attention to Mr. Obama’s successor, leaving him grasping for attention.

His period of relevance is ending earlier than previous presidents, and analysts said it’s partly because of the surge of attention to Sen. Bernard Sanders, the upstart candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, who is running to the left of the incumbent.

“What’s happened is he’s become more irrelevant faster than he should have. The conversation is no longer whether we should have a third term of Obama; it’s about his deficiencies. Sanders has effectively made this a conversation about his deficiencies,” said Michael McKenna, a Republican strategist.

Just how tough it is for Mr. Obama to break through the chatter became clear Thursday, when the president and vice president traveled to Baltimore to speak to House Democrats huddled for their annual policy retreat.

SEE ALSO: Live Results: Iowa Caucus Map Results

He issued a call to arms, urging his party to be proud to run on his record in this year’s elections — yet his speech was reduced to 30 seconds late in the evening’s cable newscasts, overshadowed by a Republican presidential primary debate, the competing rally held by Donald Trump and Mr. Sanders and Hillary Clinton at their own campaign events.

The irony is that Mr. Obama’s relevance is dropping even as his approval ratings rise.

He is flirting with 47 percent approval at the RealClearPolitics.com average of polls — a level he hasn’t seen since June 2013 — but Americans overwhelmingly tell pollsters that they think the country is headed in the wrong direction.

“I would encourage people to take a look at the statistics, and those facts, I think, paint a pretty strong picture about the success that the president has had, even in the face of historic partisan obstruction in the United States Congress,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Monday.

Matthew Latimer, who served as speechwriter at the end of President George W. Bush’s tenure, said numbers dropped in 2008 when political attention shifted away from the White House. Mr. Latimer said the telling moment was when Republican presidential nominee John McCain picked Sarah Palin to be his running mate.

“It struck me as a remarkable choice and changed the conversation, and was a departure from the Bush administration,” said Mr. Latimer, who is now founding partner at Javelin, a public relations firm. “It was a big story, and we had nothing to do with it. We were kind of spectators.”

Mr. Latimer said many fellow White House staffers were in denial about the president’s waning relevance, but Mr. Bush was gracious. Consumed with managing the Iraq War and an economy in a severe decline, he engaged in little of the preening and politicking that other presidents have done during their final year in office.

Mr. Latimer said he does have some sympathy for Bill Clinton, who continued to press his agenda up until the last days of his presidency.

Perhaps hoping to recapture some of the magic of his own campaign days, Mr. Obama plans to visit Springfield, Illinois, next week, on the anniversary of his 2007 announcement that he was running for the White House.

Publicly, at least, the White House is operating full speed ahead, insisting that there is room for Mr. Obama to maneuver on a number of priorities, including trying to win passage of his Asian trade deal in Congress, expanding income tax credits for the working poor and tackling the growing heroin epidemic.

Next for Mr. Obama is his 2017 budget plan, which is to be submitted next week. His plans in the past five years have gone nowhere, but Republicans on Capitol Hill say this year’s blueprint will be forgotten faster than ever.

It will be submitted on the same day that New Hampshire holds it primary elections, and it lands in a Congress firmly in the grasp of Republicans at a time when budget news suggests that tightening, not the Obama plans of increased spending, is needed to get the deficit under control.

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