Barack Obama's re-election crew sounded decidedly upbeat recently in discussing the state of the president's bid to remain in the White House for four more years.
There have been some encouraging signs, the re-election brain trust told reporters last week. The process to select a Republican nominee is in disarray with the rise of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whom Democrats consider a weak opponent in the general election.
Obama's also been ginning up support in speeches outside Washington, using his bully pulpit to point up differences between Democrats as the defenders of the middle class and the poor, and Republicans as the protectors of the wealthy.
Other positives: The war in Iraq is formally over and the jobless rate for November dropped to less than 9 percent.
While the staff isn't breaking out the bubbly just yet, campaign advisers told media, including The Washington Post, they detect a shift in momentum.
"I think a couple of months ago, we saw it as a much more difficult race," said Gerald W. McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which endorsed Obama last week. "A lot of people didn't realize yet what the Republican lineup was going to look like, and what they were going to talk about and stand up for. Recently, with the debates the Republicans have had among themselves, people understand more."
Obama's overall standing in national public polls has improved -- again slightly -- but on the economy -- the driving force of the campaign -- he remains at or near record lows. A recent CBS News poll indicated few blamed Obama for the economy, but just 28 percent said hen has improved it.
An ABC News-Washington Post survey last week indicated Obama's unfavorable rating was 49 percent, the highest level of his presidency, compared with 48 percent who expressed a favorable view.
The turn is one of many Obama re-election campaign leaders said they expect between now and November.
"The presidential race is going to have lots of twists and turns -- just look at the Republican primary," deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter told the Post. "What's not going to change is that this is going to be a close election and a fundamental choice. We feel good about how that choice is shaping up."
To which Republican observers say poppycock.
Team Obama "should not feel the least bit comfortable," Republican pollster Linda DiVall told the Post. Obama's low approval ratings, bad feelings about the direction of the country and the way unemployment is calculated don't translate to anything positive for the president, she said.
The road to the White House in a dozen battleground states promises to be a rockier than it was four years ago, a Gallup-USA Today poll last week indicated.
The Swing States Poll found the number of voters identifying themselves as Democratic or Democratic-leaning has fallen by 4 percentage points while the ranks of Republicans climbed by 5 percentage points.
In 2008, when Obama carried the swing states by 8 percentage points, Democrats overwhelmed Republicans in party identification by 11 points. Now, the edge is a statistically insignificant 2 points.
The poll focuses on 12 swing states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Jim Messina, Obama's campaign manager, said he challenges the idea Democrats are at a disadvantage.
"It's not what we're seeing on the ground," he told USA Today. "We have built a really good ground operation. We've spent the last year building the infrastructure for a ground operation to turn out our votes, and the Republicans just haven't."
But it's still a numbers game.
Most other states and the District of Columbia are all-but guaranteed to be won by one party or the other, giving Obama a likely 196 electoral votes and the Republican nominee a base of 191, USA Today said. A candidate needs 270 to win the White House.
Obama carried all 12 states in 2008 and needs half of their electoral votes in 2012 to win a second term.
The poll indicated Obama trails former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney among registered voters by 5 percentage points, 43 percent to 48 percent, and Gingrich by 3 percentage points, 45 percent to 48 percent in the swing states. Nationally, Obama leads Gingrich 50 percent to 44 percent and edges Romney by a statistically insignificant 47 percent to 46 percent.
"It means that the votes that President Obama needs to cobble together are going to be made up more of independents than they were last time," Lanae Erickson of Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank, told USA Today. "This time, it's going to be much, much closer, and in a closer race those independents are going to put him over the top."
But two recent Marist polls show Obama ahead of Gingrich and Romney in South Carolina and Florida.
In South Carolina, the leads are narrow: 45 percent to 42 percent over Romney and 46 percent over 43 percent over Gingrich.
In Florida, the president leads Romney by 7 percentage points, 48 percent to 41 percent, and Gingrich by 12 percentage points, 51 percent to 39 percent.
For his part, Obama said on CBS' "60 Minutes," he doesn't care who the Republican nominee will be with the Jan. 3 Iowa caucus looming.
"The core philosophy that they're expressing is the same," Obama said "And the contrast in visions between where I want to take the country and what -- where they say they want to take the country is going to be stark."
Voters, he said, "are going to have a good choice and it's going to be a good debate."
During the interview, Obama pitched his case for re-election, saying voters will side with him when comparing his vision for America to the GOP vision.
"I think when it comes to election time, what the American people are going to be asked is: Does the vision I'm putting forward have a better chance of succeeding than the vision that the other side is putting forward? And it becomes a choice."