Sky high expectations for Obama

Barack Obama and family take the stage in Chicago
President-elect Barack Obama and his family arrive on stage for his election night victory rally at Grant Park on November 4, 2008, in Chicago.
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

America is smitten with Barack Obama right now. Polls from the Associated Press and Quinnipiac University show two-thirds of Americans view him favorably. Three quarters say the election gave them hope. Take Obama supporter Nancy Fisher, who lives in Hugo. She could barely sleep the night before the election.

"I actually woke up at 2:30 in the morning and I was so excited," Fisher said, but she made herself go back to bed until sunrise.

"I woke up and it was just a beautiful day, and I really did think 'It's a beautiful day for a change.'" She continued. "And I felt the history of the moment when I cast my vote."

Fisher wants to see improvements to the economy, to health care access, and an end to the war in Iraq. She knows Obama and the Democrats can't do it all right away, but she's not letting that dampen her optimism.

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"I think we will start to see change right away," she said.

Even as he declared victory on election night, Obama acknowledged he faces a daunting set of problems: "two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century."

Then, he urged the country to be patient, saying, "our climb will steep. We may not get there in one year, or even in one term."

And in his first interview as president-elect, Obama told CBS 60 Minutes that the American people aren't expecting their president to be a miracle-worker.

"But what we do expect is that the guy's going to be straight with us," Obama said. "We do expect that he's going to be working really hard for us. We do expect that he's going to be thinking about ordinary Americans and not just the wealthy and the powerful. And we do expect that if something doesn't work that they're going to try something else until they find something that does."

U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., knows voters aren't always patient, though. He learned that after he won his first election two years ago.

"I was sworn in on January 3, and on January 10 I was getting calls about why the troops weren't out of Iraq," Walz said.

Walz predicts it will be relatively easy for Obama to push through new energy policies and stricter regulations on financial markets.

"I think one of the more difficult ones -- it always is just because of the massive nature of it -- is health care reform," he said. "That's going to be very difficult, but not impossible."

And Walz is optimistic about Obama's first hundred days as president. But he says for Obama to keep the public's trust, the president-elect needs to be careful not to marginalize congressional Republicans.

"I think the American people aren't advocating that the only way to do this is a Democratic President, a Democratic agenda," Walz said. "I think President Obama is going to have to make sure that Republicans, although in the minority, are given the opportunity to have their ideas heard and have them incorporated in to what we do. I think that's what the public is hopeful about as much as anything."

U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., agrees with Walz. He doesn't see the 2008 election as a broad mandate for the Democrats, either.

"The voters in my district elected me, and my agenda doesn't match Barack Obama," Kline said.

But with fewer members in both the House and Senate, Kline says congressional Republicans won't always be able to stop the Obama agenda.

"The Democrats are going to raise taxes, and so we will try to use as much influence as we can, to block them where we can, and I think we can have some effect there," he said.

Kline sees the Republicans' best hopes in the Senate, where they'll probably be able to stall some legislation with a filibuster.

They'll be able to do that, unless Democrats get a 60 vote majority. That would happen if the Senate races currently unresolved in Minnesota and Georgia go Democratic.

But whether or not Democrats make it to 60 votes in the Senate, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., is feeling good about the 111th Congress. And she's not worried that voters have high expectations for the Democrats.

"First of all, I think it's great that we finally have high expectations of government, that we're shooting for the stars, that we believe that government can finally get something done," Klobuchar said.

Asked if Obama's high ratings were just a honeymoon, Klobuchar quipped back: "Well he hasn't even gotten married, yet! ... The honeymoon will start in January."

And Klobuchar hopes Obama's honeymoon lasts all the way through his first year in office.