WASHINGTON (AP) - In growing numbers, once-confident Democrats now say President Barack Obama could lose the November election.
The hand-wringing reflects real worries among Democrats about Obama's ability to beat Republican rival Mitt Romney, who has proven to be a stronger candidate than many expected. But it's also a political strategy aimed at rallying major donors who may have become complacent.
Interviews with a dozen Democrat strategists and fundraisers across the country show an increased sense of urgency among Obama backers. It follows a difficult two weeks for the president, including a dismal report on the nation's unemployment picture, a Democrat defeat in the Wisconsin governor recall election and an impressive fundraising month for Romney and Republicans.
President Barack Obama signs a bill Wednesday in the Oval Office of the White House.
"We've all got to get in the same boat and start paddling in the same direction, or we're going to have some problems," said Debbie Dingell, a Democratic National Committee member and wife of Michigan Rep. John Dingell.
"We can't take this for granted," said Peter Burling, a DNC member from New Hampshire. "I intend to be running scared from now until November."
These worries have also prompted some second-guessing of an Obama campaign operation once perceived as run by disciplined message specialists. Democrat pollster Stan Greenberg and former Clinton adviser James Carville this week wrote that Obama's efforts to convince voters that economic conditions are moving in the right direction aren't swaying people.
"We will face an impossible head wind in November if we do not move to a new narrative," the strategists wrote.
Former Democrat Party chairman Don Fowler faulted the Obama camp for not laying more blame on Republicans for the slow economic recovery.
"The Obama campaign should make it clear whose fundamental fault the economic problems are, and they've chosen not to do that," he said. "Not doing that, they forfeit an argument, a strategy, a technique toward making the Republicans bear responsibility for these problems."
Some Democrats hope the deepening concern among some party faithful could lead to an increase in fundraising.
The mighty Obama and DNC fundraising operation fell behind Romney and Republicans in May, with the GOP team raising $76 million compared to the $60 million haul for the president and Democrats. And the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action has lagged far behind Republican-leaning outside groups, in part because of what senior strategist Bill Burton said was a sense of complacency among Democrat donors.
"Democrats have to know that the president is up against a well-financed opponent in a tough political environment," said Burton, a former White House aide. "If everyone doesn't join the fight, he could be defeated."
The Obama campaign itself has also been sounding the alarm.
"If there's anyone still out there acting like we have this thing in the bag, do me a favor and tell them they're dead wrong," Anne Marie Habershaw, the campaign's chief operating officer, wrote in a blog post last week.
And campaign manager Jim Messina warned that GOP success in the Wisconsin recall, aided by independent group spending, confirmed that "all the outside money that's poured into elections this cycle can and will change their outcome."
Five months from Election Day, several polls show Obama and Romney locked in a tight race, as voters vent their frustrations over the nation's economic woes. May figures showed that employers created a meager 69,000 jobs and the jobless rate ticked up to 8.2 percent. And this week, the Federal Reserve released data showing that median family net worth shrank in 2010 to levels not seen since 1992 after adjusting for inflation.
Obama campaign spokes-man Ben LaBolt said the president "always anticipated this would be a close and competitive election."
But some strategists worry that time is running short. While many Democrats believe party loyalists will get more engaged as the election draws closer, other operatives say the terms of the election will be set over the next two months.
"This can't wait until September," said Steve Rosenthal, president of the Organizing Group, a Democrat consulting firm.