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Obama celebrates his birthday with grey hairs and poor polls

By Rupert Cornwell

Barack Obama celebrated his 49th birthday yesterday doing what has long been a way of life for US Presidents of every stripe: stumping for his party's candidates, and raising money.

Mr Obama's first 19 months in the White House have been something of a paradox: a period when minority Republicans have waged legislative warfare and when the unpopularity of Congress reached record levels — yet also of significant achievement.

He has pushed through the most sweeping healthcare reform in almost 50 years, the most far-reaching changes in financial regulation since the 1930s and an $800bn (£503bn) economic stimulus package.

But the strain has been showing, not just in the lines on his face and the ever more numerous grey flecks in his cropped hair.

His job approval ratings have tumbled from over 70% when he was inaugurated to a new low of just 41%, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll this week.

Some specialists argue that Presidents biologically age by two years for every calendar year in office. If so, then the 44th occupant of the Oval Office is no exception.

Indeed, Mr Obama refers to it himself. “I've a lot more grey hair than last year,” he said in a recent speech. Some say he has also lost weight.

Nor is a drop in popularity unusual. At a similar point in his first term, Ronald Reagan was experiencing a similar decline and for much the same reason: a dismal economy and high unemployment.

Technically the recession may have ended, but for millions of Americans it doesn't feel like it.

However, the White House fightback is under way and its political strategy is clear: to blame the weak economy on the slump he inherited in January 2009.

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