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The 2012 Election: A Conversation with NPR's Michele Norris

Saturday, Oct 23rd

Last update 07:02:40 PM EST

The 2012 Election: A Conversation with NPR's Michele Norris

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Major fundraisers will kick off this month in Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. New buttons, T-shirts and bumper stickers are going out to supporters. The necessary paperwork is on file with the Federal Election Commission. Obama for America 2012 has started the race.

 The commander in chief launched his bid for re-election 25 months after becoming the first man of color in the Oval Office. President Barack Obama announced his intention to run again in an e-mail to grassroots voters who helped him make history.

“We’re doing this now because the politics we believe in does not start with expensive TV ads or extravaganzas, but with you – with people organizing block by block, talking to neighbors, co-workers and friends. And that kind of campaign takes time to build,” the Democrat explained in the April 4 e-mail.

 The official campaign video ends with the simple sentence, “It begins with us.” There are no new campaign speeches from the Democrat or images of him on the job. Instead, a cross-cultural group of women and men caution supporters not to depend on chance or the incumbent to achieve victory in 2012.

“It’s an election that we have to win,” a Nevada woman states.

Speakers in the video deliver Mr. Obama’s message that the work must start now in order for him to secure a second term. He again will need an army of energetic volunteers and donors committed to his leadership.

“I don’t agree with Obama on everything, but I respect him and I trust him,” a North Carolina man says in the video.

Disenchanted independents and liberals might agree more with the Republican National Committee’s new political ad. It depicts Mr. Obama as a “cool, calm and collected” insider who is out of touch with the needs of the middle class and the country. Not surprisingly, Velma Hart, the black Obama supporter laid off after talking about her financial fears at a town hall meeting, is seen telling the president she is “exhausted” from defending him.

The RNC ad wraps up with the slogan, “Hope Isn’t Hiring. The GOP is urging supporters to defeat the Obama fundraising juggernaut. Some analysts estimate the Democratic incumbent will raise $1 billion or more. His grassroots movement pulled in a record $750 million in the last campaign.

“The 2012 election is going to be very interesting,” says Michele Norris, an award-winning journalist and host of NPR’s All Things Considered. “I’m looking forward to seeing not just the election but the conversation in the country around the election.”

In 2009, Norris began documenting what Americans of different races and backgrounds were saying or not saying about the 2008 presidential race. The book project evolved into Grace of Silence, a memoir about racial experiences her own family kept hidden from younger generations.

The journalist’s admiration for her father grew as she learned secrets about the past. It deepened her understanding of why Belvin Norris Jr. chose civility and compassion as his weapons in fighting prejudice and hatred. She wishes he had lived long enough to witness the euphoria of hope on Inauguration Day – the excitement over change that now seems to be a distant echo.

“I don’t think people have forgotten. I just think that events overtake the emotion or the sentiments that people feel. The news goes on, the world goes on. Once he became President, he had to deal with a lot of thorny issues.”

In fact, the list of crises keeps growing. A battle between Democrats and Republicans over nearly $38 billion in spending cuts and funding for Planned Parenthood stalled the 2011 budget. Only a stopgap compromise in the last hour kept the federal government running.

More clashes loom ahead with the release of President Obama’s plan for slashing national debt already more than $14 trillion. Although the economy show signs of health, it has not fully recovered from a record-setting recession. The nation’s unemployment rate is at its lowest point in two years, but the drop to 8.8 percent offers little comfort to the jobless.

Voters have even more to consider. Rising energy prices are alarming consumers. Recovery from the BP oil spill in the Gulf will take months, if not years in some cases. Catastrophic earthquakes in Japan and Haiti are escalating the need for U.S. aid. Anti-government protests in Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia threaten more violence and complicate alliances. Thousands of U.S. troops are still serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Perceptions of how well the President handles present and future challenges will be a factor in the upcoming elections. Back in November of· 2008, 70 percent of Americans in a Gallup Poll had a favorable view of Mr. Obama. The Obama Poll Watch measured his job approval in March at an average of about 48 percent.

Norris sees the steady poll declines for the Democrat as “predictable” politics. Former President Bill Clinton also lost the House two years after he was elected.

“That’s the sort of political sign curve that we see naturally,” the former ABC News Correspondent explains. “Some of that, perhaps, had to do with Barack Obama, but a lot has to do with the political winds and things that have been happening in this country.”

Voter discontent fueled Republican victories in last November’s elections. Half of the registered voters surveyed by Quinnipiac University in March said the President does not deserve another four years in office.·

Nevertheless, some political analysts consider Mr. Obama’s chances·of winning in 2012 “pretty decent” compared to the Republicans most likely to run. ·He gets even better odds from shareholders at Intrade, an online prediction market. They give him a 59.4% chance of being re-elected.

Supporters argue the country is better off with President Obama at the helm. They point to his leadership on passage of a health care plan, repeal of the military’s policy on gays and lesbians, adoption of a compromise on tax cuts and approval of a $787 billion dollar stimulus package.

NPR’s Norris is eager to resume her talks with voters about who should lead the nation. The seismic shift that put a black man in the Oval Office also touched off heated debates about race, gender, religion and identity – discussions still taking place in public and private.

“That has brought forth a very interesting conversation in lots of different ways and in lots of different prisms; about what it means to be an American, about doors of opportunity in America, about what it means to be a person of authority and who gets to wear the cloak of authority,” Norris adds.

Differences of opinion about President Obama and the state of the union are likely to spark more firestorms in the coming battle for ballots. Norris encourages voters to look beyond personalities and promises – and hold meaningful conversations about the complex issues confronting the nation.






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