Here are five disadvantages Obama faces as he begins his reelection campaign:
- That the economy will not have fully recovered by November 2012 has been priced into Obama's stock. What matters is the perception of a relative recovery. And what feeds those perceptions is whether people know people who are struggling. A slow and steady increase in private-sector employment may not be sufficient, though, to remove the sense of urgency that voters project about jobs.
- In the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way's analysis of Obama's 2008 coalition, the "droppers" -- Obama voters who stayed home in 2010 -- were mostly frustrated at politics in general. They were not disappointed in Obama per se. What reason will Obama give them to come out and vote? For self-described "switchers" -- those who voted for Obama in 2008 but chose Republican candidates in 2010 -- a recovery economy is not going to be the panacea. These voters had problems with the Democratic brand and the perception that Democrats tilted far to the left, becoming out of sync with their values.
- Who is Obama? What are his answers to the fear that America is in permanent decline? It was beneficial to have that question open in 2008, but it might hurt him in 2012. We're supposed to know the man's mind now and shouldn't need to be told where he's going to go. By this point in his first term, Americans knew enough about President George W. Bush to allow the Bush campaign to run against John Kerry -- rather than in defense of Bush's policies. Larger world events shaped what voters thought, of course. But we don't have a fixed sense of who Obama is because he calibrates quite often, and there are thick threads of pragmatism running through his policy choices. He has a vision for the world, but he has communicated it better to the world than to audiences at home.
- The petulance of professional liberals. Obama's pollsters think that this problem is overstated, pointing to surveys showing how popular the president remains with people who call themselves liberals and Democrats. But progressive elites have spent the past two years aggressively holding the president to his campaign promises, and in no way should Obama's campaign assume that they will distribute the energy of the grassroots as effectively as they did in 2008, when they had a raucous primary to get them all fired up. Obama's reelection command will have to be more humble. Contrast this with conservatives: They're fired up, they're organized, and they plan to raise hundreds of millions outside the party to discredit Obama before the GOP primary ends.
- The crushing economic gloom of the Rust Belt and Midwest. It is here where Obama's coalition simply didn't show up in 2010, and Obama must find a way to win some combination of Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota, states that have shifted to the right. Skepticism of Obama remains intense here.
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Marc Ambinder is a former contributing editor at The Atlantic.