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Will Obama's rift with the left matter?

The left is hopping mad, not just that Obama cut a tax-cut deal with Republicans, but that he didn't put up much of a fight. But the breach may help him woo back independent voters in time for the 2012 election.

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Another factor that helps insulate Obama from a primary contest is his race. He has 90 percent support of the black community, which would rally to his defense in the face of a primary challenge.

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The political landscape of 2012 will also become clearer once the Republicans have a nominee, and the choice becomes more concrete. A less-than-perfect Obama may look a lot better to progressives after they know the alternative. That’s probably what the White House is counting on. President Bill Clinton, after all, angered the left when he passed the North American Free Trade Agreement and welfare reform, and won reelection easily.

The difference between Mr. Clinton and Obama is expectations. Clinton campaigned as a centrist, while Obama campaigned as an agent of “hope and change,” a formulation that allowed a wide swath of the electorate to get behind him, including some Republicans and many independents. Elected with 53 percent of the vote, Obama took office with job approval ratings in the high 60s. Realistically, he had nowhere to go but down.

Among self-described Democrats, Obama still has 80 percent support. Still, he’s lost some who backed him enthusiastically two years ago. Michael Hare, a retiree from Rockville, Md., and a “lifelong Kennedy Democrat,” says he contributed thousands of dollars to Obama in 2008. Now, he would rather move to Canada than vote for Obama in 2012.

“After the euphoria wore off, nothing has gone to my satisfaction,” says Mr. Hare. “The bailout totally ignored the middle class.” On health-care reform, “we have industry writing policy,” he adds.

Among college students interviewed by the Monitor, Obama retains strong support, but they suggest he may have to work harder to replicate the enthusiasm among youths his campaign saw in 2008.

Kaley Hanenkrat, president of the College Democrats at Columbia University in New York, still counts herself as a supporter, though she calls the tax-cut compromise “really disappointing.” She is hoping for progress on other fronts, such as repeal of the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that prevents gays from serving openly in the military.

Chloe Bordewich, copresident of the College Democrats at Princeton University in New Jersey, worked on behalf of the Obama campaign in 2008, and still supports him. But, she says, it’s “unbelievable the excitement and enthusiasm among students that he just let die away after his inauguration.”

Sara Johnson in Washington contributed to this report.

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