By KEN THOMAS
WASHINGTON (AP) — Imploring supporters to stick with him, President Barack Obama acknowledged Tuesday that his re-election is not "a slam dunk" because of understandable public skepticism over the economy but said his campaign would put forward a vision aligned with the mood of the country.
The president, addressing donors at a hotel near the White House, drew attention to his efforts to heal the economy, end the Iraq war and overhaul health care but said "all those things don't mean that much to somebody if they're still out of work right now or their house is still underwater by $100,000. So, yeah, this is going to be tough."
"We're going to have to fight for it. It's not going to be a slam dunk," he said. Obama said the campaign would pursue "the vision that is truest to our history and most representative of the core decency of the American people."
Obama spoke hours after his top campaign advisers said they were uncertain about which Republican will emerge to challenge him next year but predicted a long GOP primary contest that they say will produce a weaker opponent in 2012.
Democrats have been targeting former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as the most likely GOP nominee but noted that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's surge in the polls has made the Republican contest very unpredictable.
Obama campaign officials said during a briefing in Washington that they expected a lengthy primary contest that would eventually hurt the party's nominee. They noted that only 15 percent of Republican convention delegates will be awarded by the end of February, making it likely that the contest will continue well into the spring.
"They're being tugged to the right every day. I think they're mortgaging themselves for the general by tacking as far as they are," Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod said of the Republican candidates. He said that would make it more difficult for the nominee "to scramble back" to the center and appeal to a broader base of the electorate for the November general election.
Republicans said Obama and his advisers keep talking about his "vision" for the country but that all he has offered are empty promises.
"After three years of Obama, Americans want results - not more of his vision that has lost jobs and created record deficits," said GOP spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski. "Americans know the truth: This president is full of empty promises and has taken our country in the wrong direction, which is why the Obama's job approval continues to slump in battleground states across the country."
Romney and Gingrich remain locked in a close contest in early Republican voting states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina with less than a month before voters begin assessing the GOP field. The Republican field repeatedly has blamed Obama for the nation's economic woes and said his policies have failed to jumpstart the economy.
Obama campaign officials said the president's speech last week in Kansas offered a glimpse of what his message will be next year: His argument that the middle class has faced numerous challenges during the past decade and that the country's economic policies must give everyone a "fair shot and a fair share."
Obama made that case again in his remarks to donors, telling them "we're all in this together."
"That vision can contrast to a vision that basically says you are on your own," he said. "It's what this election was about in 2008; it's what this election is going to be about in 2012."
The campaign officials also claimed an organizational advantage over the GOP. They said they have more staff on the ground in Iowa than the Republicans and have had about 1 million conversations with supporters and about 90,000 in-person meetings with volunteers since Obama launched his re-election campaign in April.
Obama's campaign outlined several potential paths to victory that would build upon states that Democrat John Kerry won in 2004 and winning in Western states like Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada or holding onto Southern states Obama captured in 2008, such as Virginia and North Carolina.
Obama's session with top campaign donors came ahead of the Dec. 31 deadline for the current fundraising quarter. Obama has raised more than $150 million for his campaign and the Democratic National Committee through the end of September.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)