BY RUSSELL GOLDMAN
Calling himself an "underdog," President Obama today said the faltering economy is a drag on his presidency and seriously impairing his chances of winning again in 2012.
"Absolutely," he said in response to a question from ABC News' George Stephanopoulos about whether the odds were against him come November 2012, given the economy. "I'm used to being the underdog. But at the end of the day people are going to ask -- who's got a vision?"
The American people, he conceded, are "not better off" than they were four years ago.
"The unemployment rate is way too high," he said of the 9 percent jobless rate, the highest in more than half a century.
Obama said his proposed American Jobs Act will put construction workers, teachers and veterans to work and give "more consumers more confidence."
Foreign affairs, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and social issues like gay marriage will all be fodder on the campaign trail, but with the first caucus and primaries less than 100 days away, no issue looms larger for 2012 than the economy and jobs.
The latest unemployment figures for the month of September will be released Friday, but the jobless rate is not expected to significantly improve. And next year, leading up to the fall elections, the unemployment rate is expected to climb to its highest level since 1940.
Obama's job approval rate is hovering at around 40 percent.
Obama would not handicap the 2012 election, but objected to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's comments that he divided people more than united them. Republicans, he said, have stood in the way of working with him time and again to fix the economy.
"At every step of way, I have tried to get the Republican Party to work with me on the biggest crisis of our lifetime. And each time we've gotten 'No,'" he said.
Obama called the 2012 race a "contest of values and vision" and a referendum on whether Americans believed the government should invest now in long-term improvements in education and infrastructure.
The president has tried, often unsuccessfully, to tread a line between bolstering the financial institutions that underpin the economy and protecting consumers and working people. He has been unable to push a tax hike for wealthy Americans through Congress and unwilling to call for greater regulation on Wall Street.
Responding to a question about Bank of America's recent decision to charge users a $5 fee for using a debit card, Obama said government should get involved and that he had worked to stop banks from charging hidden credit card fees.
Obama, who was praised this weekend in the gay community, said his position on gay marriage was "evolving," but refused to say whether he would support gay marriage by Election Day 2012.
"I'm still working on it," he said of whether he would move from supporting civil unions for same-sex couples to supporting gay marriage.
Days after ordering the killing of U.S. citizen and al Qaeda terror chief Anwar Al-Awlaki, President Obama said the terror network was weakened.
"Given the nature of our open society we're always open to the possibility of terror attack," he said. "But a big project with a lot of financing is very difficult for them now."
"They're still dangerous, they're still our No 1. enemy," Obama said.
The questions featured in Monday's online interview, the first under a new alliance between ABC News and Yahoo! News, were generated by Internet users. More than 40,000 questions, including one from Republican presidential contender former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, were submitted online.
Asked which sites he visits to get the news, Obama noted that former Apple CEO Steve Jobs gave him and iPad to surf the Web.
"You know I'm pretty eclectic," the president said. "I read a lot of news that I used to read in print, I read on the Web now. I go to ABCNews.com, of course, and also Yahoo! Typically, I read on the web what I read in hard copy."