Nothing inspires Democrats like the Barack Obama swagger — the supreme self-confidence on stage, the self-certainty in private.
So nothing inspires more angst than when that same Obama stumbles, as he has leaving the gate in 2012.
That’s the unmistakable reality for Democrats since Obama officially launched his reelection campaign three weeks ago. Obama, not Mitt Romney, is the one with the muddled message — and the one who often comes across as baldly political. Obama, not Romney, is the one facing blowback from his own party on the central issue of the campaign so far — Romney’s history with Bain Capital. And most remarkably, Obama, not Romney, is the one falling behind in fundraising.
To top it off, Vice President Joe Biden has looked more like a distraction this month than the potent working-class weapon Obama needs him to be.
National polls, which had shown Obama with a slight but steady lead over Romney through April, moved into a virtual tie this month — despite Romney’s clumsy conclusion to the GOP race.
But for now, it’s impossible to overlook the early struggles of a White House and political team notorious for discipline and effectiveness. Consider the rocks that piled up in Obama’s backpack this week as he and Romney moved into the opening phase of the general election campaign:
* Romney has surprised his many critics with a clear and consistent focus on the economy, hands down the issue of the race. After months of missteps, the guy looks steady and disciplined again, much like he did in the early days of the GOP primaries. By playing to his strength, he has masked his weaknesses — for now.
By contrast, Obama has looked unsteady. Some Democrats have watched with dismay as the focus of Obama’s public comments bounced from student loans, to tax cuts for the rich, to trade, to Bain Capital.
* Bain has turned into pain this week. For the first time, some top Democrats are questioning the strategy coming out of the reelection campaign’s Chicago headquarters, with some agreeing with Newark Mayor Cory Booker that Obama is making it too easy to paint him as anti-business. Ed Rendell and Steve Rattner also have publicly voiced concerns, echoed by many others in private conversations. The result has been a minor but very public split in the party on an issue Obama’s camp hoped would tag Romney with a series of crippling labels: elitist, mean-spirited, anti-worker.