Obstacles to Obama's reelection, starting with low public opinion

Obama's job-approval rating is as low as it's ever been, and one poll shows just 38 percent want him reelected. But he's a champion campaigner, and he's kicking off a series of town hall meetings this week.

Nam Y. Huh/AP
President Barack Obama greets supporters as he leaves a fundraising kickoff event at Navy Pier in Chicago, Thursday, April 14. This coming week he'll hold town hall meetings in Virginia, Nevada, and California.

As he launches into a week of town hall meetings, freshly invigorated by his tougher talk on a political vision that includes more taxes for the wealthy and protection for progressive programs, President Obama faces a tough political reality.

He’s as low as he’s ever been in the eyes of the public – particularly among the independent voters he’ll need to win reelection next year.

In that sense, he’s in at least some good company. Among recent presidents, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton faced a similar obstacle in their first term. Reagan and Clinton survived; Carter was shown the door.

The latest Gallup Daily tracking three-day average shows 41 percent of Americans (and only 35 percent of independents) approving of the job Obama is doing as president. That ties his low, registered three times previously – twice in August 2010 and once in October 2010.

“President Obama is now as unpopular as he has been at any time since he became president,” Jeffrey Jones writes in a Gallup analysis of the most recent polling.

The bump-along economy and high gas prices at the pump are among major factors, Gallup finds, plus the tea party-fueled House of Representatives now run by Republicans.

“His ability to navigate these challenges will help determine whether he will be elected to a second term as president,” Jones writes.

Winning that second term now becomes virtually a full-time job, since everything a president does has a political dimension testing his ability to communicate his specific position as well as broader vision.

How well can he be expected to do? At this point, two prominent conservative columnists come to very different conclusions.

“It doesn’t take a genius to see that Obama is very likely to be reelected,” writes David Brooks of the New York Times, who notes that Obama “hit the political sweet spot with his speech” at George Washington University last Wednesday.

“Every few years, Republicans try to reform the welfare delivery systems to make them more marketlike.” Brooks writes. “Every few years, voters, even Republican voters, reject this. The situation today is slightly less hostile to these ideas, but not much.”

Peggy Noonan at the Wall Street Journal begs to differ.

“Barack Obama can be taken, and his adversaries haven't even noticed,” she wrote Saturday. “In fact, he will likely lose in 2012.”

Her reasoning?

“Internationally, he's involved in a confused effort that involves bombing Libyan government troops and sometimes their rebel opponents, leaving the latter scattered and scurrying…. Domestically, the president's opponents seized the high ground on the great issue of the day, spending and debt, and held it after the president's speech this week. In last week's budget duel, the president was outgunned by Republicans in the House and outclassed by Paul Ryan, who offered seriousness and substance as a unique approach to solving our fiscal problems.”

Noonan points to other polls bringing bad news for Obama: An Ipsos survey with 69 percent of Americans believing the country is on the wrong track; a Zogby poll with just 38 percent of respondents saying Obama deserves reelection.

The White House and Obama’s reelection brain trust in Chicago are reading the same polls, of course.

Obama’s strength in 2008 was his ability to rouse and inspire not only his younger, more liberal base but independents and many moderate Republicans as well. The differences with John McCain – in style even more so than in substance – made all the difference. Obama was much better at connecting with individuals, small groups, and mass rallies. And of course, he was so totally new in terms of age, race, and background.

He’s not new anymore.

So this week Obama will conduct three town hall meetings – one in northern Virginia, one in Reno, Nev., and one streamed live on Facebook from company headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. He’ll also attend political fund raisers in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The Obama campaign is expected to spend upwards of $1 billion getting him reelected. Given the way things are going – at least in the polls – he may need every bit of that.

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