David Gergen | Bio
CNN Senior Political Analyst
Heading toward a showdown on his top domestic priority - and possibly the linchpin to his presidency - Barack Obama carries two handicaps into his prime time press conference tonight.
First, he does not yet have a fully formed health care plan to "sell" to the country. Ordinarily, a president trying to persuade the public on a contentious issue has a firm plan to present in prime time. But the nature of the process in health care has meant that five different Congressional committees are working on ideas - and two of the most influential have not even reported yet on their recommendations.
As a result, the President is left to rail against the status quo - and he does this with great persuasiveness - but he is unable to bring his much respected oratorical power to bear on convincing people exactly what to do to fix things.
Second, the President is taking to the airwaves at a time when he no longer seems to have as big a welcome mat as in the past. Not only are his high poll numbers slipping a bit but so are his audience numbers. For his first prime time press conference in February, some 49.5 million people - a whopping number - tuned in. For his second, in March, 40.4 million watched. And in his third, in April, the total dropped to 28.8 million. Observers will closely watch the returns tonight.
He may be testing the outer limits of media presence. Tonight will mark his fifth major prime time appearance in his first six months. Even FDR, a legendary communicator, had only three fireside chats in the same time frame. (George W. Bush held four prime time press conferences in his whole eight years).
Obama's lieutenants will tell you he has a history of rising to the occasion and that already he has advanced health care reform farther than any of his Democratic predecessors. They are right on both arguments. But they know as well this will be one of the steepest, most important climbs of his young presidency.
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