- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2012

CHICAGO — President Obama still has boatloads of fans — and seemingly no political enemies — in his old backyard of Hyde Park, the neighborhood from where he launched the political career that eventually landed him in the White House.

Voter after voter at the Beulah Shoesmith School polling station, blocks from Mr. Obama’s Chicago home, said they’re sticking in the president’s corner and dismissed the Republican candidates, saying Mr. Obama would be enjoying more success if Republicans weren’t so intent on blocking every legislative proposal he offered up.

“He can’t do anything about it without help and if he can’t get the Republicans to agree on anything or compromise on anything, what can the man do?” said Andrew Preer, 72, adding that he was voting for Mr. Obama because “He’s a Hyde-Parker man, it is as simple as that.”

Ken Smikle, who has called this area home for 25 years, took the criticism of Republicans a step further.

“I think he has done well, and I think he could have done even better had not the opposition been so racially motivated, racially driven — at least that is what is being used to drive a wedge on partisan issues,” the 60-year-old said. “It is sending our country backwards.”

Voters in Illinois went to the polls for primaries on Tuesday, not only in the Republican and Democratic presidential races (though the latter is a formality), but also in congressional elections.

At least in Hyde Park, home to the University of Chicago, where Mr. Obama once taught law students, the Republican presidential candidates’ attacks have made no headway.

On Monday, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney used a speech at the university to accuse the president of attacking “the cornerstone of American prosperity: our economic freedom.”

“If we don’t change course now, this assault on freedom could damage our economy and the well-being of American families for decades to come,” he said.

Rick Santorum, meanwhile, cast the election in more apocalyptic terms, warning that President Reagan’s fear that freedom will end could come to fruition if Mr. Obama is re-elected and his federal health care overhaul stays in place.

“He said freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,” the former senator from Pennsylvania said, alluding to Reagan at a campaign stop Monday in Dixon, Ill., where the former president lived as a boy. Voters here rejected that.

“I just think they are outrageously ridiculous,” said Catherine M. Mardikes, a librarian at the University of Chicago who has lived in the neighborhood off and on since 1979. “They are going back to the 1950s.”

The 57-year-old expressed disgust with the robocall she said she received from the Santorum camp about “homosexuals taking over,” and said she opposed Republican candidates’ stances in the recent fights over contraception and Iran’s nuclear program.

She also questioned Mr. Romney’s consistency, echoing a line of attack that his rivals have used against him.

“Who knows what Romney really thinks anyway?” she asked rhetorically.

On the policy stances that Republicans attack, voters said they were generally pleased with what the president has done — and wished Republicans would be more willing to work with him.

Bill Morrison said the stimulus package has helped revive the economy and could have done more if Republicans did not stand in the way. “I think we would be in worse shape without it, and I think it would have worked better if it were larger,” the 81-year-old said. His wife, Kate, applauded the health care overhaul.

“Although not at all perfect, it certainly will cover a lot of people who would not be covered otherwise,” the 79-year-old woman said.

Another resident, Jim Montgomery, said the president has also made strides on the foreign front — though he hasn’t gone far enough for the 80-year-old lawyer’s tastes.

“In terms of foreign policy, he has gotten rid of a lot of the feelings across the world of America being an ugly place and people who basically run roughshod over people,” Mr. Montgomery said. “I would like to see him be a little less of a hawk, candidly in places like Afghanistan where you have a country that is going to be in turmoil whether you stay there or leave.”

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