Continued from page 1

He runs more than 5 percentage points ahead of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, according to Real Clear Politics, and runs ahead of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty by 14 and 15 points, respectively.

Still, the surge in Internet contributions to tea-party-backed candidates during the 2010 congressional elections is evidence that the GOP may be able to mimic Mr. Obama’s success with small donors by tapping into a new base of conservative contributors.

The 2010 elections also indicate that the GOP nominee will have significant outside help next year. American Crossroads, an advocacy group founded by former Bush strategist Karl Rove, earlier this month announced a goal of raising $120 million to spend against Mr. Obama and other Democrats in 2012.

Yet after being trounced in November, Democrats aren’t likely to be caught flatfooted again.

They are gearing up their own counterweights to Mr. Rove’s group, including American Bridge, led by former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and David Brock, the founder of Media Matters.

Rebuilding the base

The Democrats want to expand the electoral map, but analysts say the president will have a tough time hanging on to Virginia, Indiana and North Carolina — all previously red states that Mr. Obama picked up last time. The big focus will again be on presidential bellwethers such as Ohio and Florida, where disappointment among Hispanic voters could be an issue.

Some core Democratic voting blocs, such as immigrant rights groups, say the president may not be able to count on their enthusiasm in 2012.

“He’s had about two years to take positive steps on immigration issues, and if you kind of do the tally of where we are right now it’s overwhelmingly a profound disappointment,” said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, which has called on Mr. Obama to sign an executive order halting deportations. “I think there’s still a lot of good will, that people are willing to give him a chance, but I think that window is really closing.”

The failure to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, coupled with the detainment of accused WikiLeaks figure Pfc. Bradley Manning, has other Obama backers wavering.

“The lesson is clear, and soldiers take note: You’re better off committing a war crime than exposing one,” Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin recently wrote on the Huffington Post about Pfc. Manning, who is suspected of leaking tens of thousands of government documents to the website WikiLeaks.

On the other hand, Mr. Obama has delivered on promises to gay-rights advocates, pushing Congress last year to lift the ban on gays serving openly in the military and announcing this year that his administration no longer would defend the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage at the federal level as the union of a man and a woman.

Above the fray

Mr. Obama may still have some work to do in rebuilding the 2008 coalition, but don’t look for active campaigning anytime soon.

“You don’t want to be running for re-election” too early, Mr. Sabato said. “You don’t want to be a mere candidate again because you do lose some of the magic of the presidency.”

Story Continues →