US & Canada

Are Obama's bedrock Chicago supporters still loyal?

Comedian and impersonator Brian Babylon
Image caption Brian Babylon lives just around the corner from the Obama family home

It's not every day you find yourself driving Barack Obama around his hometown.

"I've got this house in Kenwood. And it's great," he tells me in his characteristically clipped tones, as we tour the more gentrified neighbourhoods of Chicago's famously gritty South Side.

"Sasha, Malia, Michelle, we live there."

While I've got him in what you might call the back of my cab, I ask if he's worried that Americans don't seem to like him as much as they did.

"Let's be frank. I disagree with that. They might not like the situation and might just use me as the poster boy for what they don't like. But do they like me? Sure they do. Would they have a beer with me? Probably."

The timbre, cadence and rhythms are uncanny.

Okay, so it's not really Barack Obama.

But Brian Babylon is perhaps the next best thing.

Mr Babylon is a broadcaster, comedian and impersonator, who lives just around the corner from the Obama family home.

A man who likes to have a little fun with the president's persona, but who says we shouldn't be too surprised by his falling poll numbers.

"He wasn't handed a clean kitchen," says Mr Babylon, snapping out of character.

"They had a crazy frat 'kegger' party and the toilet was overflowing... he had to clean up."

'Impatient people'

It's a theme frequently repeated at Valois, a cafeteria-style restaurant in nearby Hyde Park.

"Most people, black and white - they are impatient," says cable TV salesman Herb Robinson, who remains loyal to a president he's more than happy to describe as a progressive.

"For the most part, we want things right now," he says, emphasising the last two words.

"Whereas, we didn't get into this situation right now."

Some of today's specials are billed as among the president's favourites - steak and eggs, pancakes, egg whites, hash browns and sausage.

Despite Mr Obama's falling poll ratings, this is one place where his name still sells.

Public discouragement

But even here, among loyal, proud supporters of the country's first black president, there are some who question his tactics.

Image caption Brian Babylon says Mr Obama was handed a mess with the presidency

"I really like him, but I think he really needs to address some of the issues," says Marjorie Browning Staples.

"A lot of people I speak to feel discouraged because things really haven't gotten better."

At Jokes and Notes, a comedy club in Bronzeville, Brian Babylon tries out some of his Obama material on an appreciative crowd.

One skit has the president arguing over an unpaid cable television bill with his roommate Martin Luther King.

In recent weeks, the real president has been reaching out to the same audience - black, urban Americans - urging them to turn out for Democratic candidates on 2 November.

"They think, 'Oh, Obama's name's not on the ballot, maybe they're not going to turn out'," Mr Obama told a Philadelphia audience on Sunday.

"You've got to prove them wrong."

But will he?

Fear of racism

Away from the raucous comedy at Jokes and Notes, it's not hard to find frustration with the deadlocked state of American politics.

"People are just starting to care less, man," says another comedian, Aaron Foster, who campaigned hard for Barack Obama in 2008.

"We're struggling so much, day to day, with this economy in America."

Mr Foster believes the president has made good on most of his campaign promises and says he detects more than a whiff of racism in the criticism of his record.

"You still have these people who are yelling that they're going to take our country back," he says, referring to conservative Tea Party activists.

"What are you really saying?" Mr Foster asks. "You're really saying we're taking our country back from black people. That's what it sounds like."

Whether it's due to a fear of racism, economic fatigue or simple disappointment, it seems unlikely that African Americans will turn out in such overwhelming numbers just because the president says the party needs them.

At a time when the party really needs its base to show up, that could be just one of several problems on election night.

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