Doug Burns, a local newspaper columnist and paper co-owner who has interviewed Obama seven times, says the waning enthusiasm for the president is to be expected,
"In 2008, he was something of a blank slate," he says. "People could see in him whatever they wanted — whether they were fairly moderate Democrats or Republican liberals, they were all finding something. There's no way a president who could appeal to that diverse of a group in theory could have lived up to that in practice."
Burns also says the stable economy cuts both ways; it could help Obama or work against him if voters are comfortable enough to focus on social issues in which they differ with the president.
Romney has his own hurdles.
Neu, the former lieutenant governor who jokingly calls himself "a really bad Republican," voted for Romney in the caucuses, saying he was the most rational of the GOP candidates. But he has problems with the former Massachusetts governor.
"You ask yourself sometimes with public figures is there an issue that they would go down for?" he says. "Is there something you believe in so deeply that you'd be willing to take a hit for? I don't see that with him."
Romney's private sector resume, however, has impressed Alice Simons, a businesswoman who owns three downtown stores.
"I do think he has a little more business sense than Obama does," she says. "The one thing that really bugs me in people criticize Romney for having money. ... I just want to see successful people. ... I guess what I'm saying if they have made their money in private business, why wouldn't we want somebody what has that sense and know-how?"
It's not economic issues, she adds, but the "constant battle" in Washington with both sides digging in without compromise that most frustrates her. "I think we just need to find somebody who can get along ... who has the ability to negotiate with the other side so that can we can get some things accomplished. ...
"Whether Romney can do it, I don't know."
Sharon+ Cohen is a Chicago-based national writer for The Associated Press. She can be reached at scohen(at)ap.org
EDITOR'S NOTE _ Another story in an occasional series, "It's the Economy," looking at the economies of battleground states in the coming election.
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