President Barack Obama is seeking to revive a spirit of hope that swept him into office in 2008 as he works for reelection. This time, he is doing it with a record.
He has started raising money for Democratic races in 2012, rallying supporters and financiers in Florida last week to "do it again.’’
“In each of us I think that spirit still exists and that sense of hope still exists,” he told about 70 financial backers at one of two events in Miami March 4. The president’s first fundraising foray for his party’s 2012 races helped bring in $1 million for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
In swing states such as Florida and Ohio, where Obama won with margins of 3 and 5 percentage points, economic trouble persists, with unemployment rates of 12 and 9.6 percent at the end of 2010. And the public mood has soured, with Quinnipiac University polling finding 49 percent job-approval for Obama in Ohio and 47 percent approval in Florida in late January.
Running for re-election on more than that promise of hope, the president has started making the case that his achievements in health care and economic stimulus are contributing to the revival of the U.S. economy.
“This will be a fundamentally different race for Mr. Obama than he had in 2008,” said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Washington-based Rothenberg Report.
“Then he represented change and captured the imagination of many,” Rothenberg said. “Now, he has a record and a performance that can be evaluated. He will have a tougher time winning key states like Ohio and Florida.”
Since Obama took office, unemployment in Florida has risen to 12 percent from 8.7 percent, while Ohio’s jobless rate has gained a percentage point, to 9.6 percent, as of December 2010.
In February 2007, as Obama was starting to raise a record $749 million for his 2008 campaign, the U.S. unemployment rate was 4.5 percent. The latest data from the Labor Department shows a rate almost twice that at 8.9 percent.
“If you look at the results of the last two presidential elections, the six most competitive states were Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio and Virginia, with Florida and Ohio having the largest number of electoral votes,” said Charlie Cook, publisher of the Cook Political Report in Washington. “It’s hard to see how any nominee could win the presidency without carrying at least one of those two.”
Florida’s home foreclosure rate in 2010 ranked third in the nation, behind Nevada and Arizona, at 5.51 percent, or one in every 18 homes, according to RealtyTrac Inc., an Irvine, California-based data company. Foreclosures have increased 26 percent in Florida from 2008.
Ohio’s 2010 foreclosure rate was 13th in the nation at 2.13 percent, or 1 in every 47 homes, according to RealtyTrac. Foreclosures there declined 4.8 percent from 2008, though they were up 6.4 percent from 2009. The U.S. foreclosure rate last year was 2.23 percent, or one in every 45 homes, a rise of 23 percent from 2008.
At the same time, unrest in the Middle East pushed crude oil for April delivery to $104.42 a barrel on March 4 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the highest settlement since Sept. 26, 2008.
“We’ve now gone through two tough years, and some of us are beaten down and worn out,” Obama told supporters during his eighth trip to Florida since taking office in January 2009. “And I’m grayer and looking a little older than I did.”
Still, Obama said they have reason to be hopeful because of accomplishments that include an improving economy, a new health- care law designed to bring insurance coverage to those who lack it and advancements in alternative energy sources.
Obama won the White House in the throes of the deepest recession since the Great Depression. Since his inauguration, the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index has gained 64 percent.
February’s 8.9 percent unemployment rate is the lowest level in two years. Hiring was widespread, with manufacturing, construction and transportation companies adding workers.
If sustained, the pace of last month’s increase in payrolls would reduce the unemployment rate to 6.9 percent by November 2012, when Obama faces re-election, said Guy LeBas, chief fixed-income strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott LLC in Philadelphia. The rate was 7.8 percent when Obama took office.
Even so, American confidence has slipped as the campaign season approaches, with just 29 percent saying the economy will improve over the next year, a decline of 11 percentage points from a month earlier, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted Feb. 24-28. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
Obama’s job approval rating dropped to 48 percent from 53 percent a month ago, according to the poll.
Voters expressed their displeasure in November’s midterm elections, ousting incumbents and putting the Republican Party in control of the House of Representatives and narrowing the Democratic majority in the Senate.
For the midterm elections, the Democratic National Committee and the party’s House and Senate fundraising committees took in more money combined than their Republican counterparts for the first time since the Federal Election Commission began tracking party money for the 1978 elections, year-end filings show.
Yet Republican outside groups helped administer what Obama called a “shellacking.”
Led by Republican strategist Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and its Crossroads GPS affiliate, Republican-leaning outside groups spent $184 million on the 2010 congressional races, while comparable Democratic groups spent $87 million.
Political advocacy groups Rove helped create will try to raise at least $120 million to defeat Obama, the organizations said earlier this month.
As Obama starts his fundraising drive, the Republican field remains unformed, with a clear challenger yet to emerge.
A Gallup poll Feb. 18-20 of registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents showed former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who unsuccessfully sought his party’s nomination in 2008, leading with 18 percent support, followed by former Governors Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Sarah Palin of Alaska, each with 16 percent. Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker from Georgia, had 9 percent support.
While Palin hasn’t declared her intentions, Gingrich announced March 3 that he was setting up a website to raise money and explore a run for the White House. Other potential candidates include former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and former Senator Rick Santorum.
Florida has long been considered a critical swing state in presidential elections, voting for Republican George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 and for Obama in 2008.
In Florida, the Quinnipiac poll showed a slight margin of disapproval for Obama’s election to a second term, with 48 percent opposed and 45 percent supporting. The survey taken Jan. 25-31 carries a 2.9 percentage point margin of error.
Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who will confront a concerted challenge for re-election in 2012, joined Obama at a fundraising dinner under a tent outside the home of real estate developer Michael Adler.
“Of all the swing states,” Nelson said, “Florida is the big prize.”
The president sent a clear message to supporters there: “I need you to do it again. That’s what tonight is all about. And I promise you this is not the last time you’re going to see me here in Florida.”
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