Evan Vucci, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama launches a political counteroffensive this week, weighed down by a stunted economy, wilting support among some of his most ardent backers, and a daily bashing from the slew of Republicans campaigning for his job.
"We've still got a long way to go to get to where we need to be. We didn't get into this mess overnight, and it's going to take time to get out of it," the president told the country over the weekend, all but pleading for people to stick with him.
A deeply unsettled political landscape, with voters in a fiercely anti-incumbent mood, is framing the 2012 presidential race 15 months before Americans decide whether to give Obama a second term or hand power to the Republicans. Trying to ride out what seems to be an unrelenting storm of economic anxiety, people in the United States increasingly are voicing disgust with most all of the men and women, Obama included, they sent to Washington to govern them.
With his approval numbers sliding, the Democratic president will try to ease their worries and sustain his resurrected fighting spirit when he sets off Monday on a bus tour of Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. The trip is timed to dilute the GOP buzz emanating from the Midwest after Republicans gathered in Iowa over the weekend for a first test of the party's White House candidates. The state holds the nation's first nominating test in the long road toward choosing Obama's opponent.
"You have just sent a message that Barack Obama will be a one-term president," Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann told elated supporters minutes after winning Saturday's Iowa straw poll, essentially a fundraising event that also tests a candidate's organizational and financial strength. She spent heavily and traveled throughout the state where she was born, casting herself as the evangelical Christian voice of the deeply conservative small-government, low-tax tea party wing of the GOP.
Bachmann pulled in 4,823 votes, or 29 percent of those cast, edging out Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who drew 4,671 votes, or 28 percent. But while Democrats probably rejoiced that Bachmann's ultraconservative voice gained strength among Republican contenders, the contest to challenge Obama in November 2012 grew even more jumbled. While the voting was under way in Ames, Iowa, Republicans also had to keep an eye on South Carolina, where Texas Gov. Rick Perry made a cleverly timed entrance into the race.
Like Bachmann and all the other candidates, Perry ravaged Obama. He said the president was presiding over an "economic disaster," in a declaration that stole some of Bachmann's political thunder and undercut the front-runner status of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who didn't compete in the Iowa test vote. Perry clearly cast a broad shadow across the Republican contest.
Obama, expecting the political shelling he would take, fired pre-emptively in his weekly radio and Internet address to the nation on Saturday. He told listeners that it was the Republicans running for president and serving in Congress who were at work crushing voters' hopes and dreams.
The question for Obama and his backers remains: Will he sustain the counterattack? Of late, he's been seen by even his most staunch supporters as too ready to retreat from critical ground when confronted by intransigent Republicans.
Polls show voters hold both parties to blame for the stunted economic recovery, an unseemly political fight over raising the limit on U.S. borrowing, an anemic deal to cut the government deficit, the subsequent and unprecedented downgrade of the country's credit rating, wild stock market gyrations and an unemployment rate stuck above 9 percent.
In the face of that reality, Obama is tacking to put some wind in his re-election sails, apparently convinced that he can gather speed by turning up the attack on Congress.
"You've got a right to be frustrated," the president said in his weekly address. "I am. Because you deserve better. I don't think it's too much for you to expect that the people you send to this town start delivering."
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