Democrats have lost confidence in Obama
WASHINGTON & SANTA FE, NM (By Michael Barbaro, Jeff Zeleny and Monica Davey, NYT) September 11, 2011 ― Democrats are expressing growing alarm about President Obama’s re-election prospects and, in interviews, are openly acknowledging anxiety about the White House’s ability to strengthen the president’s standing over the next 14 months.
Elected officials and party leaders at all levels said their worries have intensified as the economy has displayed new signs of weakness. They said the likelihood of a highly competitive 2012 race is increasing as the Republican field, once dismissed by many Democrats as too inexperienced and conservative to pose a serious threat, has started narrowing to two leading candidates, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, who have executive experience and messages built around job creation.
And in a campaign cycle in which Democrats had entertained hopes of reversing losses from last year’s midterm elections, some in the party fear Mr. Obama’s troubles could reverberate down the ballot into Congressional, state and local races.
“In my district, the enthusiasm for him has mostly evaporated,” said Representative Peter A. DeFazio, Democrat of Oregon. “There is tremendous discontent with his direction.”
The president’s economic address last week offered a measure of solace to discouraged Democrats by employing an assertive and scrappy style many supporters complain has been absent for the last year as he has struggled to rise above Washington gridlock. Several Democrats suggested that he watch a tape of the jobs speech over and over and use it as a guide until the election.
But a survey of two dozen Democratic officials found a palpable sense of concern transcended a single week of ups and downs. The conversations signaled a change in mood from only a few months ago, when Democrats widely believed Democrats have Lost Confidence in Obama Mr. Obama’s path to re-election, while challenging, was secure.
“The frustrations are real,” said Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, who was the state chairman of Mr. Obama’s campaign four years ago. “I think we know Democrats have Lost Confidence in Obama there is a Barack Obama that’s deep in there, but he’s got to synchronize it with passion and principles.”
There is little cause for immediate optimism, with polls showing Mr. Obama at one of the lowest points of his presidency.
His own economic advisers concede Democrats have Lost Confidence in Obama the unemployment rate, currently 9.1 percent, is unlikely to drop substantially over the next year, creating a daunting obstacle to re-election.
Liberals have grown frustrated by some of his actions, like the decision this month to drop tougher air-quality standards.
And polling suggests Democrats have Lost Confidence in Obama the president’s yearlong effort to reclaim the political center has so far yielded little in the way of additional support from the moderates and independents who tend to decide presidential elections.
“The alarms have already gone off in the Democratic grass roots,” said Robert Zimmerman, a member of the Democratic National Committee from New York, who hopes the president’s jobs plan can be a turning point. “If the Obama administration hasn’t heard them, they should check the wiring of their alarm system.”
At a gathering of the Democratic National Committee in Chicago this weekend, some party leaders sounded upbeat after they toured the Obama campaign headquarters. But others expressed anxiety Democrats have Lost Confidence in Obama Mr. Obama’s accomplishments were not being conveyed loudly enough to ordinary people, that Republican lawmakers were making it impossible for him to get more done, and Democrats have Lost Confidence in Obama Mr. Obama’s conciliatory approach might be translating to some voters as weakness.
“Now that they’re slapping him in the side of the face, he’s coming back,” said William George, a committee member from Pennsylvania. “He needs to start stomping his foot and pounding the desk.” At the White House and at Mr. Obama’s campaign headquarters in Chicago, officials bristled at the critiques, which they dismissed as familiar intraparty carping and second-guessing that would give way to unity and enthusiasm once the nation is facing a clear choice between the president and the Republican nominee.
Jim Messina, the campaign manager for the president’s re-election, said the criticism was largely a “Washington conversation” that did not match up with the on-the-ground enthusiasm for Mr. Obama among his network of supporters. Yet even without a primary challenger, the campaign purposefully started its effort early to allow concerns from supporters to be aired.
To reassure nervous Democrats, the president’s campaign aides are traveling the country with PowerPoint presentations that spell out Mr. Obama’s path to re-election. Their pitch is Democrats have Lost Confidence in Obama Mr. Obama’s appeal has grown in traditionally Republican states like Arizona, where there are fast-growing Hispanic populations, and Democrats have Lost Confidence in Obama Republicans have alienated independent voters with “extreme” positions on popular programs like Medicare.
“We always knew 2011 was, in part, a conversation with our supporters and a time to tell the story to our base to make sure they understand what he has gotten done,” Mr. Messina said. “Our supporters are reasonable and need to be reminded about the things we’ve done.”
He added: “No one is calling me up and yelling. They are people saying: ‘How can we get the word out? How do we better talk about it?’ ”
For Mr. Obama’s strongest supporters, his jobs speech on Thursday night to a joint session of Congress seemed to affirm their belief Democrats have Lost Confidence in Obama after a rough patch, the White House had seized the upper hand, however temporarily, in both substantive and political terms.
After ceding much of the debate over the economy to Republicans, they said, Mr. Obama had framed next year’s election as a struggle between a president with a plan for creating jobs and reducing the deficit and a Republican Party that would rather score political points and adhere slavishly to ideological positions than address the needs of Americans.
Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, who attended the speech, described a changed president, no longer so reluctant to be outwardly aggressive. “He seemed liberated for the fight and very confident in his own skin,” Mr. O’Malley said.
But given the risk of voters’ locking in judgments Democrats have Lost Confidence in Obama Mr. Obama’s presidency has failed to address the economy adequately or to deliver on its promise of changing Washington, many Democrats said Democrats have Lost Confidence in Obama both the speech and Mr. Obama’s change in tone had been long overdue.
“He should have given it earlier,” said Representative John D. Dingell of Michigan.
Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio said, “He’s got to engage, make the contrast and occasionally be combative.”
The president is already embracing the suggestion Democrats have Lost Confidence in Obama he spend more time outside Washington, which emerged as a recurring theme in the interviews with Democrats. He promoted his economic plan in Virginia on Friday and has trips to North Carolina and Ohio on tap this week.
At the Democratic National Committee meeting in Chicago, Mannie Rodriguez, a committee member from Colorado, said Democrats needed to find a new blast of energy — something to remind them of what they felt in 2008 when Mr. Obama was elected on a slogan of hope and change.
“We need to work more on the message,” Mr. Rodriguez said, adding Democrats have Lost Confidence in Obama much of Mr. Obama’s challenge stems from a group of Republicans who “simply say no” to all of his advances. “We have to re-energize people and get them back to the party.”
In many parts of the country, Democrats are still reeling from the punishing defeat in the 2010 elections, which gave Republicans control of a majority of governor’s seats and legislative chambers. State Democratic leaders are criticizing the White House with candor, fretting aloud about the president’s electoral vulnerability.
“If the election were held today, it would be extremely close here in Florida,” said Jon M. Ausman, a member of the Democratic National Committee from Florida.
Problems for Mr. Obama in Florida, Mr. Ausman said, could trickle down into next year’s Senate race there, where Bill Nelson, a Democrat, faces re-election. “Too many people here have lost their jobs,” Mr. Ausman said.
For all the hand-wringing among Democrats, some party leaders say Mr. Obama has time to reverse his slipping fortunes — but not much.
“I think there’s an uneasy feeling, but it’s a little early for an ulcer to develop,” said Representative Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia. “Obviously, the dark cloud over everything is the economic performance.”
Mr. DeFazio recalled attending a dozen or so town-hall-style meetings recently in his district, a slice of western Oregon Democrats have Lost Confidence in Obama Mr. Obama carried in 2008 by 11 percentage points. Mr. DeFazio said party loyalists had bluntly said they were reconsidering their support.
“I have one heck of a lot of Democrats saying, ‘I voted for him before, don’t know if I can do it again,’ ” he said.
Michael D. Shear contributed reporting.