AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Sunday, Aug. 21, 2011 | 2:01 a.m.
Four years ago, John Darcy of Mesquite was nearly consumed with excitement over the possibility of the nation electing its first black president — a man Darcy saw as offering a vision of what America could overcome and the leadership skills to achieve it.
Darcy, who lived in Henderson at the time, knocked on doors and attended rallies in an effort to help Barack Obama get elected.
“I remember the flush of the moment. I remember the excitement of knocking on doors. I remember every word he spoke,” said Darcy, a nonpartisan voter who considers himself at the liberal end of the spectrum.
“Now, my heart is almost broken. I’m just so crestfallen. He’s achieved so much in his life, but he could achieve so much more.”
The sky-high expectations of what Obama represented have collided with the reality of governing — an eventuality even Obama’s advisers expected.
As Obama heads into his re-election campaign in a swing state he won with 55 percent of the vote, much of that excitement has dissipated — due to the extended recession and the struggles of pushing his agenda through a frequently deadlocked Congress.
Darcy’s sentiment was echoed by several Nevada Democratic or Democratic-leaning voters interviewed by the Las Vegas Sun last week. They give similar reasons for their disappointment: He wasn’t aggressive enough in shaping the health care bill, he’s given in to Republicans in Congress too often, he caved when it came to extending the Bush tax cuts.
The waning enthusiasm among his base is bad news for Obama, whose job-approval rating has steadily declined in Nevada. Since he was elected, his approval rating has rarely hit 50 percent and dipped several times into the high 30s. It has generally hovered in the mid-40s, according to data compiled by Pollster.com.
That’s not necessarily a fatal blow to his re-election prospects in Nevada.
“His approval rating is obviously directly related to the bad economy, but from the numbers I’ve seen, there doesn’t seem to be the personal animosity toward him,” said Democratic consultant Billy Vassiliadis, who advised Obama during his 2008 campaign. “He still has that likability factor. It’s more frustration. From the numbers I’ve seen, they don’t blame him for the economy, but they’re still mad at him because he should have fixed it.”
With Nevada battered more than any other state by the recession, however, some voters who might have given Obama more of a chance under different circumstances are ready to move on.
“I have two teenagers and they are both real dire about the future,” said Norah Sliger, an independent voter from Reno who said she didn’t vote for Obama in 2008 and won’t do it next year. “That’s the most alarming thing to me. I like to see my kids hopeful. And that’s what (Obama) promised us. Well, he’s been given his chance.”
Those who voted for Obama were a little more forgiving, especially on the jobs front.
“Considering the mess he was handed, and the lack of cooperation from most of the Republicans in the House and Senate, it’s surprising he’s gotten as much done as he has,” said Edward Camuffo, a Reno Democrat. “Everything he’s tried, it’s been a battle of almost epic proportions.”
Carl Edson, a Republican turned Democrat from Fernley who voted for Obama in 2008, said he still supports the president but has been disappointed in his performance so far.
“I don’t think he has given us the leadership that we had anticipated he would give us during the election period of 2008, and that’s been kind of a real letdown,” Edson said. “On the other hand, I think he’s doing much more than people seem to realize. I don’t feel that his work for jobs and the economy has been as dismal as most people or the news seem to make it out to be.”
As Republicans work to select a candidate to run against him, Obama has been quietly building his operations in key battleground states. His advisers see Nevada as one of the top battlegrounds in his re-election bid.
The campaign has signed on noted Democratic strategist Rebecca Lambe, who has helped build the Nevada party since 2004 and was instrumental in Sen. Harry Reid’s re-election campaign last year.
The campaign has also begun hiring field directors to organize supporters for the caucuses. Although Obama does not have a primary challenger, the caucuses are seen as an important step in resuscitating the waning enthusiasm in the Democratic base.
On a governing level, Obama is expected to announce a significant jobs package soon.
And in a move last week, his administration announced it would begin a case-by-case review of illegal immigrant deportations, giving low priority to the cases of those who would qualify to stay in the country under the stalled Dream Act.
That decision could have a significant effect on his ability to retain the Hispanic vote — a constituency that has suffered disproportionately in the recession and has been disappointed by the administration’s inability to pass immigration reform.
“Latinos will view this as a very sincere effort by the Obama administration to focus on fixing our broken immigration system,” said Andres Ramirez, vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee’s Hispanic Caucus. “This is the first indication the administration is willing to do some of this stuff directly. And that is a big deal to constituents who care about immigration reform.”
Nationally, Obama’s approval rating among Hispanics has dropped, but is still higher than it is among white voters. Ramirez noted that immigration and the economy have been the significant contributors to that downward pressure on Obama’s approval rating with Hispanics.
But, Ramirez, along with other Democratic advisers, isn’t sounding the alarm yet on Obama’s re-election efforts in Nevada.
“The frustration is understandable and ... warranted,” he said. “But it’s also manageable.”
And, indeed, each of the disappointed Obama supporters the Sun spoke to said that despite being let down so far, they planned to vote for him again.
“Who else would I vote for?” Darcy said.