WASHINGTON -- After a dreary summer marred by the fight over government borrowing, rank-and-file Democrats say they are growing more optimistic about President Barack Obama's political prospects in 2012. They cite his tougher, more populist tone and what they view as a chaotic primary fight among Republicans.
Many Democrats acknowledged that high unemployment and economic uncertainty remain as formidable obstacles for the incumbent. But interviews with more than a dozen party activists across the nation found support for Obama's more forceful message against GOP lawmakers and interest in rebutting the presidential candidates.
Several pointed to Obama's speech last week in Kansas, where he argued that the middle class had been under duress for the past decade and economic policies must give everyone a "fair shot and a fair share."
"He didn't have his voice and we didn't have our voice," said David Leland, a lawyer in Columbus, Ohio, and former state party chairman. "But now he has successfully turned that particular corner and most people are much more enthusiastic and much more fired up about it."
Added Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Senate Democrat: "What he said in Kansas brought us back down to basics." He told CNN's "State of the Union" yesterday that "this is a make-or-break moment for the middle class in America."
Entering 2012, Obama faces a mixed set of economic numbers that have improved but that no incumbent would relish: unemployment of 8.6 percent in November, down from 9 percent in October; consumer confidence of 56 percent, well below the level where a president typically gets re-elected; and an economy that has created 100,000 or more jobs five months in a row -- the first time that has happened since April 2006.
Politically, Obama's approval rating, as measured by Gallup, has been in the low 40s this fall; it hasn't topped 50 percent since last May. Polls typically show about three-quarters of voters view the nation on the wrong track. Republicans have blamed Obama for high unemployment and rising debt, contending that his policies have failed to lift America from recession.