WASHINGTON — Four months from Election Day, President Barack Obama has an edge in support among women, African-Americans, Hispanics and young people, groups that could him swing the race in November.
He retains the power of incumbency and people generally like him.
But there are indications that Obama’s supporters aren’t as enthusiastic about him as they once were, and the Democrat no longer is in a fundraising league of his own, with Republican Mitt Romney and GOP-leaning groups raking in the campaign cash.
Plus, the shaky economy, which crashed in fall of 2008 and helped Obama capture the presidency, is a huge vulnerability. Come November, it could trump all his other advantages.
A look at Obama’s assets and liabilities:
Power of Incumbency: He’s the president, and that means he can set the national agenda. It’s a power Obama has put to good use during his re-election campaign. He used the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death to remind voters of his national security credentials. He made a direct appeal to Hispanics by announcing a more lenient immigration policy for people who came to the U.S. illegally as children. The president also already is known to the public so his campaign can focus its efforts on defining Romney instead of spending time and money introducing Obama.
Demographics: Obama leads Romney among women, African-Americans, Hispanics and young people, edges with key voting blocs that could help him capture battleground states. The Obama campaign is banking on support from Hispanics to win out west in places like Nevada and Colorado, and in Virginia, where the Hispanic population has surged. High turnout among African-Americans would help Obama in North Carolina. And if Obama wins the women vote, it would be a significant boost to his efforts to reach the 270 electoral votes needed for victory.
Likability: No matter how bad the economy gets or how low Obama’s job approval ratings dip, polls show many Americans still like the president. And that personal appeal could make a big difference with undecided voters who may find it hard to vote against someone they like. About 50 percent of those surveyed in a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll felt positively about Obama, compared to 33 percent who felt positively about Romney.
Strong Surrogates: The Obama campaign has two popular and persuasive surrogates at its disposal: Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Both keep up a robust campaign schedule. They head to battleground states when official business keeps the president in Washington. And they’re dispatched to places where they may be more popular than he is. The first lady’s approval ratings — 64 percent view her favorably according to a recent Pew poll — far exceed her husband’s. And Biden has an easier rapport than Obama with white, working class voters in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Economy: There is no greater threat to Obama’s re-election prospects than the economy. Even the most loyal Obama supporters say that if the already shaky economy softens any further before Election Day, the president’s chances of winning will be significantly diminished. The nation’s unemployment rate is stuck above 8 percent, though it has come down from its high of 10.1 percent in 2009. No one in the White House or Obama campaign expect significant economic improvement before the election. But advisers do fear that the economy could get worse, it could cement the notion with voters that the president is the wrong economic steward.
Outside money: Romney and outside groups supporting him are expected to spend more than $1 billion during the campaign, with much money being used to flood the airwaves with TV ads attacking the president. Democrats have struggled to compete with the torrent of GOP money. A Democratic super political action committee hasn’t come close to matching the fundraising totals of its Republican counterparts. And Obama’s campaign was vastly outraised by Romney’s campaign last month. The president and his advisers say Obama could be the first incumbent running for re-election to get outspent — though the also may be trying to motivate reluctant Democratic donors.
Waning Enthusiasm: Obama himself acknowledges that his candidacy isn’t as exciting as it was in 2008 when he was a political newcomer. Voters who lack enthusiasm may not donate money or volunteer for his campaign. They also may not show up to vote in November. That’s a particular concern for Obama among young people, who not only voted for him in large numbers in 2008, but were a core part of his volunteer base. A Pew Research Center poll conducted last month showed that 60 percent of younger voters say they are giving quite a lot of thought to the election, down from 71 percent in 2008.
Lack of second term specifics: Obama’s re-election rationale is based more on broad themes, like economic fairness, than specific policy objectives for a second term. A recent economic speech in Ohio was largely a rehash of ideas the president has previously proposed. It left the president open to criticism from Republicans and some Democrats who say he hasn’t provided voters a clear enough sense of what he wants to do in a second term. Obama campaign officials counter this criticism by saying the presidents still wants to pass previously proposed ideas that were blocked by Congress in his first term — and by noting that Romney hasn’t offered many specifics of his own.