WASHINGTON (AP) — For all his problems with the economy, President Barack Obama is getting unexpected help from a Republican Party that seems incapable of capitalizing on its advantages.

Congressional Republicans' fumbling of the payroll tax issue is the latest example of party in-fighting and disarray that gives Democrats hope for the 2012 elections. GOP presidential contenders have tried to distance themselves from the legislative mess. But they might be tarred nonetheless if swing voters decide the party is either inept at governing or too extreme.

The eventual GOP presidential nominee "will be somewhat shackled to the Republican brand," said Democratic strategist Erik Smith, even if congressional Republicans are the ones leading the charge in an unpopular fight over the payroll tax. He said GOP House and Senate candidates will face even more problems.

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