The Barack Obama that most Hoosiers remember voting for can still be found on YouTube. He stands before a cheering Elkhart high school gymnasium in August 2008, tireless, aspirational, promising a new America of jobs and hope. “We can choose another future,” says the newcomer with the funny name. “So I ask you to join me.”
Today that view of Obama is harder to find in Indiana. A couple of weeks back and a dozen miles west of Elkhart, hundreds gathered in another school gym — except this time it was for a job fair. With the local unemployment rate above 12% and rising again this summer, about a third of the employer display tables stood empty.
Julie Griffin, who voted for Obama in ’08, sat down at the room’s edge, well dressed and discouraged. After 23 years as a payroll administrator at a local RV plant, she got laid off 18 months ago. “Really, what has he been doing?” she said when I asked about Obama’s efforts to help people like her. “I guess I don’t know what he is doing.”
Across the gym floor, Joe Donnelly, Elkhart’s pro-life, pro-gun Democratic Congressman, worked the crowd. He was part of the moderate wave that won Congress for Nancy Pelosi in ’06, and he was re-elected with 67% of the vote while campaigning for Obama in ’08.
The President has since returned to the region three times, but Donnelly is nonetheless fighting for his political life. In a recent television ad, an unflattering photo of Obama and Pelosi flashes while Donnelly condemns “the Washington crowd.” This is basically a Democratic campaign slogan now: Don’t blame me for Obama and Pelosi. “I’m not one of them,” Donnelly told me when I caught up with him. “I’m one of us.”
This shift in perception — from Obama as political savior to Obama as creature of Washington — can be seen elsewhere. When Obama arrived in office in January ’09, his Gallup approval rating stood at 68%, a high for a newly elected leader not seen since John Kennedy in 1961. Today Obama’s job approval has been hovering in the mid-40s, which means that at least 1 in 4 Americans has changed his or her mind.
The plunge has been particularly dramatic among independents, whites and those under age 30. With midterm elections just nine weeks off, instead of the generational transformation some Democrats predicted after 2008, the President’s party teeters on the brink of a broad setback in November, including the possible loss of both houses of Congress. By a 10-point margin, people say they will vote for Republicans over Democrats in Congress, the largest such gap ever recorded by Gallup.
By Michael Scherer Thursday, Sep. 02, 2010