After a dreary summer marred by the fight over government borrowing, rank-and-file Democrats say they are growing more optimistic about President Barack Obama’s political prospects in 2012. They cite his tougher, more populist tone and what they view as a chaotic primary fight among Republicans.

Many Democrats acknowledged that high unemployment and economic uncertainty create formidable obstacles for the incumbent. But interviews with more than a dozen Democratic activists across the nation found support for Obama’s more forceful message against GOP lawmakers and interest in rebutting the presidential candidates.

Entering 2012, Obama faces a set of economic numbers that have improved but that no incumbent would relish: unemployment of 8.6 percent in November, down from 9 percent in October; consumer confidence of 56, well below the level where a president typically gets re-elected; and an economy that has created 100,000 or more jobs five months in a row – the first time that has happened since April 2006.

Politically, Obama’s approval rating, as measured by Gallup, has been in the low 40s during the fall and hasn’t topped 50 percent since last May. Polls typically show about three-quarters of voters view the nation on the wrong track. Republicans have blamed Obama for high unemployment and rising debt, contending that his policies have failed to lift America from recession.

Nonetheless, a month before the first vote in the GOP nominating race, many Democrats said they were encouraged by the topsy-turvy contest. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have been battling for the lead while businessman Herman Cain, who’s now dropped out, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry stumbled after rising in polls.

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