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Obama 'somber' in interview about his progress, election

April 26, 2012 at 1:40 PM ET

AP via Rolling Stone /
The Rolling Stone cover with President Obama. The issue hits newsstands Friday, April 27.

President Barack Obama knows the stakes of this year's election are high.

After all, he told Rolling Stone magazine, his legacy thus far has been met with mixed reviews.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling in June on whether the individual insurance mandate that is a key component of the Obama administration’s health care law is unconstitutional.

Though the economy has stabilized, a recent NBC/WSJ poll found that voters feel presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney leads Obama 40% to 34% when it comes to considering which candidate has savvier ideas on shoring up the economy.

Still, Obama feels confident that this fall voters will reject what he sees as Republicans' "shift to an agenda that is far out of the mainstream — and, in fact, is contrary to a lot of Republican precepts."

He also underscored that though there have been tense exchanges between his administration and GOP congressional leadership, the president does not see the relationship as “frosty.”

“When John Boehner and I sit down, I enjoy a conversation with him. I don’t think he’s a bad person,” Obama said. “I think he’s patriotic. I think that the Republicans up on the Hill care about this country, but they have a very ideologically rigid view of how to move this country forward, and a lot of how they approach issues is defined by ‘Will this help us defeat the president?’ as opposed to ‘Will this move the country forward?'"

In the interview, which writer and Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner described as "somber," Obama said that in many ways, the election is a referendum on his first-term performance.

"Now, the burden on me is going to be to describe for the American people how the progress we’ve made over the past three years, if sustained will actually lead to the kind of economic security that they’re looking for,” Obama said. “There’s understandable skepticism because things are still tough out there.”

Obama acknowledged that the unemployment rate, which is at 8.2 percent, is “way too high.”

"You have folks whose homes are underwater because the housing bubble burst, people are still feeling the pinch from high gas prices,” Obama said. “The fact of the matter is that times are still tough for too many people, and the recovery is still not as robust as we’d like, and that’s what will make it a close election.”

The past four years have also given the president an opportunity to examine issues of race and describes his own views on the topic as “complicated.”

"Race has been one of the fault lines in American culture and American politics from the start," he said. "I never bought into the notion that by electing me, somehow we were entering into a post-racial period.

"On the other hand, I’ve seen in my own lifetime how racial attitudes have changed and improved, and anybody who suggests they haven’t isn’t paying attention or is trying to make a rhetorical point.

"We all see it every day, and me being in this Oval Office is a testimony to changes that have been taking place.”

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TODAY.com contributor Halimah Abdullah is the site’s woman in Washington.

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