Obama is Finding it Tough to Engage Core Constituencies

Hispanics, African-Americans call on the president to do more.

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His latest bid to rally African-Americans, Hispanics, and others with direct appeals and harsh attacks on Republicans hasn't quieted the dissenting voices. And this indicates how much difficulty Obama will have in trying to increase the motivation of those groups to match the extraordinary level of support he enjoyed in 2008.

At a roundtable for Hispanic journalists at the White House yesterday, Obama seemed annoyed when he was pressed to do more to achieve comprehensive immigration reform despite the opposition of congressional Republicans. "This notion that somehow I can just change the laws unilaterally is not true," he said. "The fact of the matter is there are laws on the books I have to enforce." [See 10 reasons Obama should be re-elected.]

Many Latinos expect more from him, and they fret that their concerns are too far down on Obama's priority list. Only 48 percent of Hispanics approve of Obama's job performance, down from 60 percent in January, according to the Gallup poll. One reason is that Hispanic unemployment is 11.3 percent, compared with 9.1 percent nationally. For another analysis of Obama's problems with Latinos, see this story in Politico.

Obama has also made a special pitch for African American support, arguing that his policies will gradually help blacks in a number of ways, such as through providing more African Americans with health insurance and good educations. But there has been pushback. Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, says Obama was off base recently in demanding that blacks stop complaining. Waters says that, with African American unemployment near 17 percent and the poverty rate of blacks on the rise, there is plenty to complain about. [Read: Obama Reaches Out To, Scolds African-Americans.]

In an interview with the BET TV network earlier this week, Obama said it's unfair for African American leaders to say he isn't doing enough to help blacks.

There is another problem. "[B]y trying to reignite Democratic donor and activist fervor with slash-and-burn tactics,, Mr. Obama mostly damages himself," wrote Republican strategist Karl Rove in an essay for the Wall Street Journal published online last night. "The damage will be to his support among swing voters. Accusing political opponents of being un-American and engaging in class warfare to push trillions in tax increases are not the messages Mr. Obama needs to win back those who decided the last presidential election in his favor and will determine the outcome of the next." [Read: Recession Hurt Hispanics, Blacks More Than Whites.]

Rove may be too dire in his analysis. But it's clear that Obama's path to re-election won't be easy. The depth of support from his core constituencies isn't assured, and the backing of swing voters is in jeopardy.

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