U.S. President Barack Obama at the Democratic Issues Conference in Cambridge,Maryland on January 27. For once, Barack Obama is behaving like a president with the wind at his back, rather than one taking the full force of a political gale in the face. (AFP Photo/Jewel Samad)
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Rising poll numbers, favorable economic data and a Republican primary race that has torn holes in the electability argument of his most likely Republican foe Mitt Romney, have combined to put a new spring in Obama’s step.
And a daring raid by Navy SEALS to rescue an American aid worker and a Danish colleague from Somali pirates last week further enhanced the commander-in-chief resume on which he will run hard in November.
“Four more years” chanted a supporter at a raucous rally in Michigan on Friday. “Ok,” Obama replied in a brash show of confidence.
Asked last week by an ABC News anchor how much he wanted to win reelection after a crisis-strewn three years in power, the ultra-competitive president replied “badly.”
And showing new disdain for his political foes, Obama publicly ticked off Arizona Republican Governor Jan Brewer on an airport taxiway last week — in full view of the press.
Yet despite rising hopes in the White House, political winds can shift quickly, and the roots of future electoral woe could be lurking even in cheering economic data, and over the Atlantic as Europe struggles to keep a debt crisis sparking global contagion.
Obama is also yet to face the prolonged and withering critique of his economic record that his Republican opponent will unleash in a bid to deprive him of the second term all presidents crave.
For now though, Obama is relishing the chance to lay into Republicans who drained the joy from much of his presidency.
Obama has often looked exhausted by the bitter attrition of divided
Washington, with the hope of his 2008 campaign a distant memory. But in recent weeks, he has appeared liberated, mostly when he has left Washington’s partisan jungle far behind.
He flirted with a 4,000 strong crowd of students on Friday, rolling out his staple campaign line “I love you back.”
Obama recently even burst into song, crooning to supporters “I’m … so in love with you” in a sound bite that went viral, has six million hits on YouTube and is now a ring tone.
“He’s certainly in a very good mood, and those of you who have seen him upclose I think can confirm that,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Air Force One.
“He always enjoys getting out into the country.”
Recent polling data has likely improved the president’s mood.
A new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll shows Obama beating Romney in a head-to-head matchup by a handy six points and obliterating the former Massachusetts governor’s main rival, Newt Gingrich.
The poll also suggested growing numbers of Americans approving of his economic management, and his job approval rating ticked up to 48 percent.
Though still high, unemployment is down to 8.5 percent and falling in some key states Obama is targeting as he seeks a route back to the White House, including Iowa (5.6 percent) and Virginia (6.2 percent).
US economic growth meanwhile hit its highest rate of the year in the fourth quarter of last year at 2.8 percent.
“The state of our union is getting stronger and we’ve come too far to turn back now,” Obama said in his national address on Tuesday.
Obama’s sometimes tense relationship with his political base may also be improving, thanks to a more brusque attitude towards Republicans and the cancellation of a Canada-US oil pipeline plan reviled by environmentalists.
“I know that he’s always thought of himself and has run as a uniter, bringing people together,” said Ian Rosoff, a student at the University of Michigan at Obama’s rally.
“That’s great, but a lot of us have been waiting for him to start asserting himself.”
If he is the nominee, Romney might emerge damaged from a toxic nominating contest, but conditions remain ripe for a savage examination of Obama’s record.
“You’ve now had three years to turn things around. The record of those three years is clear. Your policies have failed,” Romney wrote in an open letter to Obama in the Detroit News on Friday.
“We have now had 35 consecutive months of unemployment over eight percent, the longest such period since the Great Depression.
“Mr President, forgive me being blunt, but when it comes to economic affairs, you’re out of your depth.”
There may also be trouble lurking in recent favorable economic data.
Friday’s growth figure of 2.8 percent was actually lower than the 3.2 percent analysts had expected, and many experts warn economic expansion could slow later this year, just when Obama hopes for a job-creating spurt.
And unemployment in some other key battlegrounds — like Florida and Nevada,remains high — at 12.6 percent and 9.9 percent, complicating Obama’s route
to the 270 electoral votes he needs to win reelection.