But on Friday, a surprisingly grim employment report was a warning that Obama could face a more challenging economy than had been expected. The government said the economy had added far fewer jobs than analysts had projected.
The disappointing news posed a predicament for Obama, who had scheduled a visit to a Chrysler plant Friday to herald the rebirth of the U.S. auto industry. As he gave a celebratory speech to cheering autoworkers, his advisers in Washington scrambled to explain the jobs report.
During Friday’s visit to the plant in Toledo, Obama did not mention the grim jobs number that was released Friday. Rather, he talked of saving a “proud industry” and “more than a million jobs.”
Still, he acknowledged continuing challenges. “[W]e still face some tough times,” Obama said. “There are still some head winds that are coming at us.”
Some political analysts said Obama would have to confront just how fierce those winds are.
“The prospect of economic growth getting up to a point and unemployment getting down to a point that is comfortable for an incumbent are declining by the month, and are now not very high at all,” said William Galston, a policy adviser in the Clinton White House and a veteran of Democratic presidential campaigns.
He added, “I hope there’s someone on the inner circle with the standing and the guts to tell the president that, if things continue the way they’re going, despite everything he’s done, he’s going to be in trouble.”
Behind the economic distress is a series of unexpected events, including the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the European debt crisis and rising gasoline prices. As a result of the unemployment rate turning back up and the housing market reaching new lows since the slump began in 2006, numerous economists have reduced their expectations for economic growth this year.
Even more challenging for Obama is that some of the hardest-hit states, such as Florida, Nevada and Michigan, are critically important for his reelection strategy.
Democrats believe the auto bailout can be a big political winner in the industrial Midwest. But the administration has struggled to show progress in helping struggling homeowners.
And White House allies concede that the economy may present greater challenges than they had thought.
“The president is going to be running for reelection in an economy that’s still too weak,” said Jared Bernstein, who until last month was chief economic adviser to Vice President Biden. “It is improving and is in a far better place than it was when he got there but still is not adequately lifting the living standards of the broad middle class.”