Obama: Can he win the youth vote once more?

  • 2 November 2011
  • From the section US & Canada
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US President Barack Obama on 1 November 2011 Image copyright AFP
Image caption President Obama campaigned with a message of hope and change in 2008

Nato Coles is a high energy performer on a very small stage.

At the climax of one song he jumps on top of the drum set, balancing precariously before leaping down, thrashing a final chord.

With a year to go to the election US President Barack Obama needs to find similar energy to motivate this crowd if he is going to stay in the White House.

We're in Motrpub, a bar which has bands most nights, well situated in Cincinnati's Over the Rhine area.

Originally home to German immigrants, the area has been newly gentrified and is now rather trendy.

Ohio is a crucial swing state ("You gotta win Ohio, to win the White House", Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney tells me the next day).

The young crowd in tonight are exactly the sort of people who campaigned and voted enthusiastically for President Obama in 2008.

The youth vote was a key part of an extraordinary alliance that propelled Mr Obama to the presidency. If he is to win in 2012, he needs to excite them enough to get them to vote again.

Nato Coles belts out a message from the stage: "A lot of people in America forget a very important lesson - labour creates all wealth."

President Obama hasn't been quite that obviously left wing but on tour he has shifted from the centre ground.

You can see his 2012 strategy unfold before your eyes.

Back on track

In early September he challenged Republicans in Congress to pass his American Jobs Act and went on the road a few times a week urging friendly crowds to get behind this new stimulus plan.

Then a change. Last week he adopted a new line: "We can't wait". It has a certain ring to it.

After all it is the title of a book by Martin Luther King.

President Obama promised to do what he could, by executive order, by-passing Congress.

Every Democrat I have spoken to says much the same thing. That he's back on track.

Image copyright bbc
Image caption Nat Coles plays with his band in Cincinnati, Ohio

Off stage, Nato Coles says some people knew that there would be disappointment.

"We realized he didn't have a magic wand when he was elected. But a lot of people showed up and voted for Obama on what I call vanity issues.

"Obama wasn't going to close Guantanamo, I knew that. But I don't know how many people I've had to talk to and say 'Hey, guys, listen! He's doing the best he can but there is no way he could do everything he promised'.

"That's on him for promising too much but I knew he was dealt a bad hand when he was elected."

Among the audience is Mark Flanigan. He tells me: "I think it's a mixed bag. I like the direction he has been going in the last six months or so.

"I was very excited when he got elected but he wasted the first two years of his presidency trying to find some kind of common ground and wasted an opportunity to really effect change.

"I think he had a vision and it was diluted to the point at which is borderline becoming blind."

"So, pretty disappointed?" I ask.

"I was, I was but I am really liking the last six months. He has changed his tack a bit and instead of reaching out an olive branch he is following what he believes a little bit more."

Feeling disillusioned

Another recent announcement by President Obama goes down very well.

The decision to pull all the troops out of Iraq.

The finality of it has been criticized by Republicans in Washington but Democrats I talk to in Ohio love the clarity.

An art student, Sheida Soleimani, tells me: "I can't really completely gauge how I feel about him right now. I am not quite disillusioned yet but he's made a lot of promises he hasn't kept yet.

"Pulling out the troops is something. Unemployment is not looking good. We'll have to see how it goes."

I remark that people don't seem very excited.

"People know that he is going to be the Democratic nominee. How much faith can we put into somebody we have already seen do this for four years?"

That is indeed Obama's problem. Four more years of the same is not quite as inspiring as hope and change.

A year out from the election I am doing a series of reports for Radio 4's Today programme. Listen to the rest of my report from Ohio.

Tomorrow: What sort of leader has President Obama been?