Democrats Starting To Worry About Obama’s Re-Election Prospects

Top Democrats are starting to voice public concerns about 2012.

Democrats seem to be starting to get worried about President Obama’s re-election prospects, and how the impact on Democrats in down-ballot races that are going to be very competitive to begin with:

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 that 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 that 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 that 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 that 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 that 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 that the unemployment rate, currently 9.1 percent, is unlikely to drop substantially over the next year, creating a daunting obstacle to re-election.

One DNC member quoted in the article says that the party needs to find a way to reignite the passion and enthusiasm that surrounded Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign but, of course, that’s not something that can just be created out of thin air. “Obamamania” as some described it (you will recall, I’m sure, the stories of people fainting at Obama rallies during the primary season) existed because there was a large segment of the Democratic Party, and a not insubstantial portion of independent voters, sick of the Bush Administration, frustrated over an economy that was stagnating even before the financial crisis of the fall hit, upset over the Iraq War, and not really willing to sign on for another eight years of the Clinton Machine. It also existed, let’s face it, because Obama was young, articulate, had a nice family, and was the first credibly African-American candidate for President.

But that was four years ago. Since then, we’ve had a stagnant economy at the very best, an Administration that seems at times inept at messaging and communication, and a continuation of policies in some areas that some of Obama’s supporters see as a betrayal. More fundamentally, it’s hard to drum up a lot of enthusiasm for your candidate when unemployment is at 9% and there’s no realistic policy it will go down significantly over the next 14 months. Republicans, on the other hand, are very enthusiastic. They’ve got an engaging primary battle ahead, and what they think is a realistic shot of winning back the White House. When one side is enthusiastic and the other side is demoralized, it has an impact not just at the top of the ticket but in races further down the ballot. With control of the Senate clearly at stake in 2012, it’s no surprise that Democrats would be worried.

This is why last Thursday’s speech was so important. As I noted in my wrap-up post on Friday, despite the fact that it had the setting of a State of The Union Address, it was really more of a political speech than a policy one:

This speech wasn’t about proposing something that Congress could actually pass. If that was the goal, then the President would be talking about sitting down with Republicans and coming up with a jobs plan. This is a campaign speech pure and simple, it was about firing up the base and trying to win back the independents. The proposals the President made last night were little more than rehashed versions of things that have been made for the past two years, some of which were actually passed into law in 2009 and failed to do much of anything to stimulate the economy. A few elements of the President’s plan, like the Payroll Tax Cut, might actually have a reasonable chance of passing simply because the GOP’s business friends like them and because the GOP clearly seems to recognize that they cannot afford to be overly obstructionist when it comes to proposals to alleviate the jobs situation. Other parts of the plan won’t survive, though, and when we wake up in September 2012 and the employment rate is still somewhere in the 9% range, President Obama will argue that it happened because Congress didn’t give him everything he wanted.

It may have looked like a State Of The Union Address, but this was the opening battle of the 2012 election campaign, and there’s only going to be more of it to come.

The speech was viewed by 31 million people, but how they react to it is something only time will tell. One thing that’s for sure, though, is that Obama’s fellow Democrats will be watching closely.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Campaign 2012, Congress, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. steve says:

    It’s the economy.

    “If that was the goal, then the President would be talking about sitting down with Republicans and coming up with a jobs plan.”

    There is no political impetus for the GOP to compromise while the economy is in the doldrums. Sitting down with the Republicans would have to mean adopting their whole plan. This is a party now rejecting payroll tax cuts.

    Steve

  2. Hey Norm says:

    A bunch of Democrats contemplating their navels.
    Who is going to beat him? Rick the Apostle? Mitt-Toast? Bachmann the Gay Crusader?
    The only sane one in the lot is Huntsman and he can’t get any traction in the GOP.
    Sorry – I don’t see it.
    This is the GOP’s Mondale moment. Hopefully after this we can get down to working on the serious problems facing the nation, and not discussing whether the earth is 6000 years old or 4-1/2 billion.

  3. just me says:

    My problem is I struggle to see any of the current GOP candidates mustering enough votes in enough states to win. Of course when Clinton won the presidency in 1992 most people the year before the election were wondering how some governor from Arkansas thought he could win.

    My guess is that for Obama this next election is going to be closer and more difficult, but he still wins the election. He isn’t going to be able to run on hope and rainbows though. He is going to have to come up with a case for why he should be reelected-my guess is he is going to run against congress and Bush and not necessarily the GOP candidate other than to try to equate that candidate with Bush.

  4. grumpy realist says:

    If the US decides to elect Perry over Obama in this next election it deserves to slide into whatever oblivion its “clap hands and pray for rain” leader will zig-zag us towards. You can’t govern, let alone run a first-class economy with a population dominated by religious fundies and crony capitalists. After four years of Perry, the US will be like Brazil, with nukes.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    I agree with steve, above, that it’s the economy. If the economy stays much as it is right now, neither improving nor deteriorating, Obama is quite likely to win the general. If the unemployment rate rises over 10%, employment continues to dwindle, and the remainder of the economy continues to move sideways, it will be a hard slog.

    Unfortunately, it’s largely beyond his control.

  6. Eric Florack says:

    Huntsman’s the only sane one? On what planet?

    Oh, I see. He’s a Democrat calling himself a Republican… of course he’s going to meet with your approval. Meanwhile, the rest of the field offers up a legitimate critique or criticism Democrat policy, and we get told…. usually by Democrats or by the RINO crowd that we’d better tone our criticism down, lest we push the voters right to the Democrats.

    Yeah, sure…. those are the ones screaming we’re racist because we oppose Obama,the ones screaming we’re taking the country hostage and subjected to “take those sons-of-bitches out” and telling us to go to hell and so forth, this is who the independents are gonna go to? These are the sane ones? Sorry, no sale.

    And look, gang. if the NYT admits their guy… the one they’ve been running cover for, for 6 years now, is in trouble, take it as gospel

  7. Wayne says:

    Put up by itself the extension of the payroll tax cut and the vast majority of Republicans will vote for it. Tie it to increase spending and larger tax increases in other areas and they won’t. The way liberals twist and misrepresent things.

    Most politicians are more worried about their election than if their party wins the Presidency. Purposely hurting the economy doesn’t help them in their elections.

    I understand that many liberals think spending a great deal more money and running up the debt is the way to go. Most conservatives do not. Of course liberals can’t understand that others may not share their beliefs so anyone not going along with them is doing it because they are evil. Not true.

    Also on the extension of the payroll tax cut, I thought liberals believe we need more revenue by increasing taxes. The entitlement programs are after all is the 900 lb Gorilla in the room. Now liberals are for taking in less revenue for it?

  8. ponce says:

    Any Democrat worried about Obama’s reelection chances just needs to look at the motley crew popping out of the Republican clown car this time around to lift their spirits.

  9. Fiona says:

    Huntsman’s the only sane one? On what planet?

    Oh, I see. He’s a Democrat calling himself a Republican… of course he’s going to meet with your approval. Meanwhile, the rest of the field offers up a legitimate critique or criticism Democrat policy, and we get told…. usually by Democrats or by the RINO crowd that we’d better tone our criticism down, lest we push the voters right to the Democrats.

    A Democrat? Are you kidding. One need only look at his record in Utah–one of the most Republican states in the nation–to see that he’s pretty darned Republican. However, since he mentions the need to work with the other side and seems to see compromise as a necessity in politics–he can’t possibly be a player in today’s Republican party.

    As for Obama’s chances, as Steve said above, it depends on the economy. If things don’t get much worse, he may have a chance to pull it out. If they degenerate, and we’re looking at a “second” recession, then we’re looking at President Perry come January 2013.

  10. Hey Norm says:

    “… the field offers up a legitimate critique or criticism Democrat policy…”

    I have yet to see any. What passes for thought in the GOP today is comical.
    Everyone on the GOP debate stage was still putting out Trickle Down Economics as thought it were state-of-the-art. Obama is a socialist. Birtherism. Voodoo economics. Tax cuts pay for themselves. Austerity is the way to growth. The 2007-2008 recession is Obama’s fault. Empire building. Anti-Science and pro-Creationism.
    This stuff isn’t legitimate. It’s a joke.

  11. Moosebreath says:

    Fiona,

    “A Democrat? Are you kidding. One need only look at his record in Utah–one of the most Republican states in the nation–to see that he’s pretty darned Republican.”

    This is bithead you’re talking to. Someone who believes McCain and W were left of center.

  12. Eric Florack says:

    @Fiona: Kidding? No. Nor was Howard Dean.

    The man is a RINO.