President Barack Obama received two pieces of good news as he hit the campaign trail on the West Coast last week to sell his plan to reduce the United States budget deficit.
The first was contained in a poll, done by the Washington Post and ABC News, that listed the approval ratings of his possible Republican challengers.
If the presidential election were to be held tomorrow, he would soundly beat any one of them, including billionaire developer Donald Trump who is now being taken seriously as a contender despite joining the "birther" chorus to query whether Obama is a US citizen.
The second was also in a poll, by the New York Times and CBS News, which showed that almost all the Republican candidates are failing to hold the attention of voters at this early stage in the campaign. The best known potential contender - Sarah Palin - was viewed unfavourably by 55 per cent of those questioned.
But the same poll also revealed that as many as 47 per cent of Republican voters surveyed said they believed Obama was not born in the US; 22 per cent said they did not know where the President was born, while 32 per cent said they believed he was born in the US. In other words, the rumours that Obama was not born in Hawaii are not going away.
This result however can still work in Obama's favour, even though his personal ratings have dipped below 50 per cent amid the debt crisis.
The President has addressed the birther issue head on, saying that it has been politically expedient in the "short term" for the Republicans. But when it comes to a vote, the people of America will realise that he "doesn't have horns", and will consider serious matters such as economic recovery and bringing the US$14 trillion ($17.5 trillion) deficit under control.
"And my suspicion is that anybody who is not addressing those questions ... is going to be in trouble," he said to George Stephanopoulos on ABC's Good Morning America.
Republican Party grandees agree with Obama. They can see the dangers inherent in the birthers' approach.
Enter "The Donald". Since announcing a few weeks ago that he was thinking of running against Obama, Trump has mined this rich seam of innuendo, and has sent investigators to Hawaii to find out where Obama was born. For some commentators, this obsession with Obama's birthplace smacks of racism. But for Trump, Obama's Certificate of Live Birth - signed by the registrar of Hawaii and accepted by the State Department - is simply not enough.
Republican strategist Karl Rove says the candidacy of Trump - an erstwhile Reform Party supporter and Democratic Party donor - would be a joke. Trump says if he were President he would get tough with China and Saudi Arabia and take over Libyan and Iraqi oil wells. He would cut petrol prices by telling the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries to lower them.
His feisty back-to-back TV appearances have certainly grabbed the nation's attention. In some polls he has been leading the Republican pack, while in the Washington Post-ABC News survey he was in fourth place, after former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Fox News commentator Mike Huckabee and Michelle Bachmann, the face of the Tea Party in Congress.
But for now, the media spotlight is on Trump. "What is the difference between Donald Trump's hair and a wet raccoon," he was asked during a Comedy Central send-up last month. "A wet raccoon doesn't have seven f****ing billion dollars in the bank," said a triumphant Trump.
TRUMP'S WORLD VIEW
"With respect to Libya, I'm interested in Libya if we take the oil. If we don't take the oil, no interest."
"I would go in and take the oil ... I would take the oil and stop this baby stuff."
"I'd give them [the Libyans] plenty so they can live very happily."
"We stay there, and we take the oil ... we [would be] reimbursing ourselves."
"In the old days when you have a war and you win, that nation's yours. This country is a laughing stock throughout the world."
"We don't have anybody in Washington that calls Opec and says, 'Fellows, it's time. It's over. You're not gonna do it any more."'