Obama believers wait and wonder

Republicans blamed for promises not kept

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TAMPA, Fla. — Since he began campaigning for re-election more than a year ago, President Obama has worried aloud that his supporters may have lost enthusiasm because of the slow pace of the changes he promised.

In 2008, Mr. Obama pledged to put Americans back to work. But four years later, he acknowledges that unemployment and underemployment are still too high.

He promised liberals who were weary of George W. Bush’s war on terrorism four years ago that he would close the detention center for terrorism suspects at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but it remains open.

He excited Hispanic voters by holding out the goal of immigration reform; four years later, the president is trying to mobilize that constituency again with the same promise that has gone unfulfilled.

Now locked in a tight race with Republican nominee Mitt Romney as the campaign heads into the final week, the president is trying to keep his supporters in the fold by arguing that he needs more time to accomplish the goals he laid out in 2008.

“We haven’t finished everything that we want to get done,” Mr. Obama said at a rally in the battleground state of Colorado last week. “That’s why I’m running for a second term.”

The number of people willing to give Mr. Obama the benefit of the doubt is dwindling. Gallup said the president’s job-approval rating suffered its biggest drop last week in more than a year, falling from 53 percent on Wednesday to 46 percent on Friday, a 7-point decline in just three days.

Those who are still eager to give Mr. Obama another chance blame Republicans in Congress for Mr. Obama’s unkept promises.

“What he didn’t get done was mainly what the Republicans blocked, like the jobs bill,” said Roz Dudden, a retired medical librarian from Denver, referring to the second economic-recovery proposal that the president introduced in September 2011 at a cost of nearly $450 billion. “Every time he wanted to do something that was progressive or interesting or that helps the American people, the Republicans blocked him with their ‘no’ votes in Congress.”

Donald Estabrook, a senior citizen from Brooksville, Fla., said he doesn’t hold Mr. Obama’s failures against him because the Republican Party has not cooperated.

“He’s done the best he can,” Mr. Estabrook said. “Being the president, you don’t always get what you think you can get, because it’s got to go through the Congress. That’s the reason why he can’t get a lot done.”

Mr. Obama’s die-hard supporters rarely acknowledge that Congress was controlled by Democrats during the president’s first two years in office, when lawmakers passed his signature health care legislation, as well as an $821 billion economic-stimulus program that the president rarely mentions anymore.

Some voters are just plain misinformed about what Mr. Obama has done over the past four years.

Asked to name the most important promise that Mr. Obama hasn’t kept in the past four years, Katie Merritt, a high school English teacher from Tampa, Fla., responded: “Get our troops out of Iraq.”

Told that the president had indeed pulled U.S. forces out of Iraq, she replied: “Well, we’ve still got plenty of people over there. They need to come home. I think we need to concentrate on the issues here at home more than overseas.”

She added that she hopes Mr. Obama focuses in a second term on “women’s reproductive rights.”

The Obama campaign is trying at this late date to remind voters of the president’s achievements. Campaign manager Jim Messina sent an email to supporters over the weekend titled “What has Obama done in your town?” It provides a search engine that allows a user to type in a ZIP code — for example, a resident of Akron, Ohio, where Mr. Obama will campaign on Tuesday, is informed that the president’s health care law ensured that “3,604 uninsured young adults in Summit County now [are] covered by their parents’ insurance.”

At campaign rallies, some of the president’s supporters will say grudgingly if pressed that Mr. Obama hasn’t put a dent in some of the major challenges facing the nation.

“It’s true that he hasn’t followed through on all of his promises,” said Keaghan Dunn-Rhodes, 18, a high school senior in Denver. “I definitely think he should have cut the deficit.

“But I don’t think that’s a reason to doubt him. I think he has a plan, and I think that he knows what he’s doing. I don’t think that it’s a lost cause.”

The president, of course, reminds audiences on the campaign trail of the promises from four years ago that he has kept.

“I told you we’d end the war in Iraq. We ended it,” he said in Denver. “I said we’d end the war in Afghanistan — we are. I said we’d refocus on the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11 — and now we’ve got a new tower rising above the New York skyline, and al Qaeda is on the path to defeat; Osama bin Laden is dead; our heroes are coming home. I’ve kept those promises.”

He added: “I promised to cut taxes for middle-class families and small businesses — and we have. I promised to end taxpayer-funded Wall Street bailouts for good — and we did. I promised to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ and today you can’t be kicked out of the military because of who you are and who you love.”

Mr. Obama also promised in 2008 to allow Bush-era tax cuts to expire for families earning more than $250,000. But as president, he found that he had to compromise with Republicans in Congress to prevent raising taxes on most Americans. His supporters aren’t holding it against him.

“He definitely kept his promises,” said Mimi Eshetu of Denver, an airline employee who noted that the unemployment rate has fallen from 10 percent in October 2009 to 7.8 percent last month.

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