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Is Obama the 'first gay president' as Newsweek proclaims?

Newsweek magazine's latest cover proclaims Barack Obama the 'first gay president'. He'd rather focus on the economy than his controversial new support for same-sex marriage. But that's a tough issue for him, as recent polls show.

By Staff writer / May 13, 2012

President Barack Obama waves as he leaves the stage after speaking at a fundraising event Thursday, May 10, 2012, in Seattle.

Elaine Thompson/AP

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Like Mitt Romney, President Obama no doubt wishes the same-sex marriage question would fade into the background so that issues more important to most Americans – say, the economy – could become the focus of campaign 2012.

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That’s unlikely to happen this coming week.

The cover of Newsweek magazine portrays Obama with a rainbow halo and proclaims that he’s the “first gay president.” The New Yorker cover picks up on the rainbow theme – shown as multi-hued White House columns – in what it’s calling its "Spectrum of Light" cover. Both magazines hit newsstands Monday.

It may be true, as Rep. Barney Frank (D) of Massachusetts – the first openly-gay member of Congress – says, that Obama’s coming out on behalf of same-sex marriage this past week won’t make much difference in November’s election.

"If you were going to cast your vote based on a candidate's position regarding same-sex marriage, you were already going to vote for Obama [or] Romney based on that," Rep. Frank said on ABC's “This Week” Sunday. "I literally don't think anybody's vote was changed by this one way or the other." 

Still, Obama’s end to “evolving” on gay marriage – though it may generate enthusiasm among his liberal base, including gay activist fund-raisers – will continue to generate critical comment, including from some commentators on the left.

“His embrace of gay marriage was not a profile in courage,” New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote over the weekend.

“Even when he does the right thing, by the time he does it and in the way he does it, he drains away excitement and robs himself of the admiration he would otherwise be due,” Dowd wrote. “Why doesn’t he just do the exhilarating thing immediately? Why does he always have to be dragged kicking and screaming to principle?”

Meanwhile, even as he tries to emphasize economic issues, Obama has his work cut out for him.

According to a new Associated Press-GfK poll, Americans are growing more pessimistic about the economy, and handling it remains President Barack Obama's weak spot and biggest challenge in his bid for a second term.

“The gloomier outlook extends across party lines, including a steep decline in the share of Democrats who call the economy ‘good,’ down from 48 percent in February to just 31 percent now,” the AP reports. “Almost two-thirds of Americans – 65 percent – disapprove of Obama's handling of gas prices, up from 58 percent in February. Nearly half, 44 percent, ‘strongly disapprove.’ And just 30 percent said they approve, down from 39 percent in February.”

Obama has an overall 53 percent approval rate, according to this poll, but that could change if the economy fails to pick up at a faster pace.

Generally speaking, most Americans aren’t sanguine about that. The AP-GfK poll finds that fewer than one-third expect their household's economic fortunes to improve in the coming year, down from 37 percent in February. Eighteen percent see their finances as worsening, up from 11 percent in February.

New polling by the Washington Post and ABC News shows the same problem for Obama. In none of his major economic accomplishments – the economic stimulus package, increased financial regulation, and the auto industry bailout – does he win majority approval (47 percent, 48 percent, and 49 percent respectively in those three areas).

“That none of Obama’s major economic proposals garner majority support has to be worrisome for the president and his political team, who recognize that the incumbent’s stewardship of the economy will be the critical issue for many undecided voters in this election,” write Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake in their Washington Post column “The Fix.”

This has put Obama in a neck-and-neck position with presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney – ahead by just 2 percentage points in the Real Clear Politics polling average.

So whether or not Obama is “the first gay president” may make little difference come November.

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