The playbook is clear: A barrage of negative advertising to define your opponent before he can define himself; a stream of issues and events to mobilize your base; and a meticulous ground game to squeeze every last vote out of the base come November. As for the small number of voters who haven’t made up their minds already, you don’t try to argue that they’ve never had it better, but rather that the other guy is unacceptable. In the end, you win a narrow victory by default. Sure, you haven’t really confronted the country’s deepest problems. But there’ll be plenty of time to deal with them next year. …

First the toplines. ABC/Washington Post puts the candidates in a dead heat, 47-47; Quinnipiac gives Obama a narrow 46-43 edge, within the margin of error; Pew shows Obama with a 7-point lead, 50-43. ABC/WP places Obama’s job approval at 47 percent; for Quinnipiac, it’s 45 According to the latter, 47 percent of the people believe that Obama deserves reelection, while 49 don’t. …

But it’s not too early to say that Obama’s vital signs look dicey. Over the past 33 months, his job approval has been lower than George W. Bush’s at a comparable time in his presidency for all but one week. Bush averaged above 50 percent in the quarter before his successful reelection campaign, while Obama has been stuck in the 46-48 percent range for months. And the famous “wrong track” measure now stands at 63 percent, versus 55 percent in the days preceding the vote in 2004. If these two numbers don’t improve for Obama, his presidency will be in jeopardy. And they probably won’t—unless the economy perks up noticeably.