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The five biggest challenges Obama faces this year

President Barack Obama, flanked by former Presidents George

President Barack Obama, flanked by former Presidents George W. Bush, right, and Bill Clinton, discusses Haiti at the White House on Jan. 16, 2010. Credit: MCT

WASHINGTON - It only gets harder.

As President Barack Obama starts his second year in office Wednesday, he faces what looks to be a tougher year than the hard one he just finished.

>>VIDEO: One year later, what is Obama's approval rating? Click here to find out

Not only has he lost the glow from his historic election, but now he takes responsibility for the country's problems while pursuing his agenda in a partisan and complicated Congress.

"The greatest challenge of the second year is that you have to move beyond promises and demonstrate the political skills to get things done," said Meena Bose, a presidential scholar at Hofstra University.

A week from Wednesday, Obama will outline what he hopes to accomplish in the year ahead in his first official State of the Union address, and in two weeks he will submit his budget to Congress, laying out his priorities and spending cuts.

Those events will chart the course Obama hopes to follow in 2010. He faces many challenges, which can either stymie him and his party, or, if he's successful, strengthen his hand.

>>VIDEO: How do LI kids feel about Obama and the work he has been doing this past year? Click here to find out

Here are five to watch.



The economy, and more specifically jobs, tops everyone's list as an issue that needs to be addressed for 2010.

That includes Obama.

Adviser David Axelrod Tuesday said Obama aims to pivot to jobs, the economy and the needs of the middle class.

Obama pushed a $787 billion stimulus package, bailed out carmakers and extended TARP, staving off a depression, Axelrod said. "But the storm has left a great deal of wreckage," said Axelrod, and the millions of jobs lost are a "focus for us in this new year."

But Republicans attack him as a big spender who has grown the deficit and killed jobs.

Obama's approval ratings on the economy are at 40 percent, the Gallup Poll said. People are more likely to say the economy is getting better, the poll said, but still give dour assessments of current conditions.

Obama must turn that view around, a tough task when he cannot control the economy.



Now that Obama has decided to launch a surge of 30,000 U.S. troops into Afghanistan to beat back the Taliban and al-Qaida, he must steel himself and hope for the best.

Americans will be watching over the next nine months as the troops deploy and meet resistance from a determined foe - resulting, Joint Chiefs Of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen said last month, in an increase in American casualties.

"On Afghanistan, he's really in a bind," said Stony Brook University professor Helmut Noporth. "He doesn't have his own party behind him, so he'll have to rely on Republicans."



Obama's numbers are down below 50 percent in some polls, and Democrats are restless.

Even the "sure-thing" Massachusetts special election to replace the late Sen. Edward Kennedy wasn't a sure thing.

Bose said Obama has not made any significant mistakes, but the mood has turned somber as he shifts from campaign to the harder job of governing.

Some say Obama could be losing his liberal base with his cool, cautious and centrist tack on health care and the Afghan war. A liberal Huffington Post writer pleaded: "Be audacious again. Give us more of the Obama we fell in love with."

But Obama, Axelrod said, is not likely to significantly change course by becoming more combative, a strategy that will be tested this year.



Health care. Climate control. Financial reform. Immigration.

Like baggage on a train, Obama loaded up his agenda in his first few months. Now he has to unpack, say analysts.

First, he must finish health care, said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California.

"The best thing about getting health care reform done is just that it will be out of the way," Schnur said, and that will free Obama to talk to voters about the economy.

But beyond that, Obama must weigh what he'll push, beyond new Wall Street regulations and jobs bills.



The success, or failure, of Obama's second year will be summed up on the night of Nov. 2, when all of the House and a third of the Senate are up for re-election.

Newport of Gallup expects Obama to lose 5 percentage points in his popularity, making Democratic losses almost certain this year.

The question instead is how big the losses will be, and whether Democrats will lose control of the House.

In politics, though, 10 months is an eternity, political analysts say.

And Newport, who relies on polling data, agrees.

"It's too early to tell," he said. "We won't know before the summer."

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