President 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 today 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.
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.
Working in Obama's favor is a Republican Party still struggling to find a presidential candidate who lights a fire with voters. Questions remain about the appeal of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and Texas Rep. Ron Paul beyond, respectively, the more conservative and libertarian wings of the party.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, looking for a strong showing in Iowa to boost his struggling candidacy, ended a distant third with 2,293 votes, or 14 percent. Sunday, he quit the race.
While the voting was under way Saturday 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, stealing some of Bachmann's political thunder and undercutting the front-runner status of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the GOP's 2008 vice presidential nominee, wasn't on the ballot and isn't a candidate yet. But she showed up at the Iowa State Fair a day before the vote, drawing huge crowds and saying she hadn't ruled out running.
Like Bachmann and Perry, Palin is a tea party favorite, but her coyness about joining the race could hurt her chances should she finally declare.
By entering the race on the same day as the Iowa voting, Perry angered some Republicans but saved some campaign cash and energy.
With his solid credentials on social as well as economic issues, Perry is an immediate threat to Bachmann, Romney and every other GOP candidate.
Romney did not participate in the Iowa poll, which he won four years ago before dropping out of the race when he failed to catch fire against eventual nominee John McCain. Romney did join all the announced candidates Thursday at an Iowa debate.
But it was his predebate visit to the Iowa State Fair that produced a political gift to the Democrats.
Responding to a heckler who challenged him on tax policies that benefit big business, he blurted out that "corporations are people, my friend." The Democratic National Committee quickly used video of that remark in prestraw poll television ads in Des Moines, the state capital. It was the kind of business-friendly Republican applause line that could haunt him with undecided voters and disaffected Democrats.
Obama and the other GOP hopefuls now face daily scrutiny as well as they try to avoid the same kind of misstep. That's a nearly impossible task in the long, arduous and expensive path toward the White House.