Campaigning in battleground states

Top Democratic superstars try to rally party loyalists and independent voters, despite an unpopular president and party.

First Lady Michelle Obama and California First Lady Maria Shriver take the stage in Long Beach, California [REUTERS]  

US President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, First Lady Michelle Obama, and former President Bill Clinton are crisscrossing the country rallying the base.

But it’s a sign of weakness if in the final days before the election they’re still trying to get the base out to vote instead of trying to bring in new supporters. 

The Democrats just haven’t hit a successful theme with the electorate.  In 2008 “Hope and Change” worked. By now, that theme sounds stale to many voters who’ve run out of hope and haven’t seen the change. 

So Obama and the Democrats have tried a few tactics – pleading for more time, reminding voters that the economic mess started under President Bush – and saying that Republicans want to ship jobs overseas. Democrats also tried the line – without offering any real evidence – that foreign money is supporting Republican candidates.

Now the message in many races is that Republicans are “too extreme,” especially in races against Tea Party Republicans. 

Underdog Dems

Anyone who covered the 2008 campaign will wonder how Obama, a master of the message, can be losing the message war this time around. He hasn’t hit on a theme that works for 2010, and now he’s being judged based on what he’s delivered in the past two years. 

An AP-Knowledge Networks Poll out on October 18th found one-fourth of those who voted for Obama are defecting to Republican candidates or are considering defecting.

Obama has tried convincing voters that policies they’ve found unpopular for months are actually a good idea – like healthcare reform and the stimulus. But it’s too late. He should’ve been out selling that months ago, not weeks before his party gets trounced.

The Democratic Party has triaged their candidates, having cut off support to weak candidates in order to focus on the competitive races. Many of the vulnerable Democrats came into office in either 2006 or 2008 as a backlash against George Bush and the unpopular War in Iraq.

Now, Democrats are facing a similar backlash against Obama and unpopular fiscal policies. 

Obama’s job approval rating was 47% in the October 20 NBC/WSJ poll.

But that number is higher than George Bush’s in 2006 when Democrats swept into Congress and about the same as Bill Clinton’s in 1994 during the Republican wave. Obama isn’t that welcome on some sections of the campaign trail where candidates don’t want to be tainted by his unpopularity. 

Getting out the vote

So the President has focused on young people who still like him. They’ve turned out in the thousands at the half-dozen rallies he’s held since September on college campuses in battleground states.

Undeniably, there are still chants of “Yes We Can.” 

But young people are unreliable voters. Obama will have to change history again to get them to the polls in large numbers for a midterm.

At a 10,000-strong University of Washington rally on October 21, Obama reminisced about Election night: “You were saying, ‘Boy, that was exciting, that was fun, that was a big party.’ And now it just seems like we’re working all the time and folks are arguing and everybody is mad. All these pundits are on TV. And this is just kind of discouraging.” 

That message isn’t quite as gripping as “Hope and Change.”

Popularity contest

Joe Biden has been on the stump campaigning and fundraising in places where he’s more popular than Obama. Michelle Obama has also come off the bench for Democratic candidates. She’s got a 65% job approval rating and is popular across demographic groups. She’s rallied and fundraised in Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, and Colorado among other places. And the White House says she’ll stay on the hustings until November 1. 

Bill Clinton, the consummate campaigner, has also been best friend to the Democrats in this cycle. The Washington Post reports that by Election Day, he will have headlined 100 events. He’s more popular with voters than Obama. He’s also empathetic, folksy, and Americans (forgetful of the scandals) are nostalgic for the simpler times he represents.

Republicans, on the other hand, have momentum as the alternative choice – even though they don’t have a unifying agenda. Their platform is mostly a list of vague ideas – like repealing healthcare and cutting spending.

But Republicans may not need to get too specific to woo voters. Polls show that the sour economic climate and anger at incumbent Democrats are enough to swing independent voters. 

Republicans also have big guns out to rally voters, including Arizona Senator John McCain. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has appeared on the Fire Pelosi bus tour, and the Tea Party has a bus tour hitting battleground states.

Also, former Republican Presidential candidate Sarah Palin has appeared at some of these events.

The last weekend before the vote promises barnstorming across all the battleground states.  It’s the last push to convince undecided voters they should get out to vote on Election Day.

Source : Al Jazeera

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