Obama and Democrats appeal to new voters in midterms

By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 26, 2010

President Obama will declare his stake in the November midterm elections for the first time on Monday as his Democratic Party announces an ambitious strategy to appeal to independent voters in its quest to maintain control of Congress.

Obama plans to issue a call-to-action video message to his supporters on Monday, the first in a series of personal efforts designed to rekindle the grass-roots magic that propelled him to the presidency in service to his party's congressional and gubernatorial candidates, Democratic officials said.

The keystone of the Democratic National Committee's $50 million plan for the midterms is persuading the roughly 15 million people who voted for the first time in 2008 to return to the polls this fall. Although such voters historically do not cast ballots in midterm elections, party leaders think their participation this year could help lift Democrats over the top in close contests.

The DNC's plan, which will be announced Wednesday, calls for reaching those first-time voters -- most of whom are registered independents and are young or minorities -- through the same vehicles Obama employed in 2008, according to internal party documents provided by the committee. The DNC is focusing on staff and volunteers in all 50 states, personal communication with the president via new media, and sophisticated voter-targeting technology.

In the video message to his supporters, Obama said his administration's success depends on the outcome of this fall's elections and warned that if Republicans regain control of Congress, they could "undo all that we have accomplished."

"This year, the stakes are higher than ever," he said, according to a transcript of his remarks provided by Democratic officials. "It will be up to each of you to make sure that young people, African Americans, Latinos and women who powered our victory in 2008 stand together once again.

"If you help make sure that first-time voters in 2008 make their voices heard again in November," he added, "then together we will deliver on the promise of change, hope and prosperity for generations to come."

In addition to direct communication with supporters, Obama is stepping up his fundraising efforts and plans to crisscross the country this fall stumping for Democrats, according to DNC Chairman Timothy M. Kaine and White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer.

Kaine said Obama plans to frame the elections as a choice between continued Democratic control or a return to Republican power. "Our story begins with: Democrats are results people and the Republicans are political obstructionists," he said in an interview. "Do we want to continue the direction that sees us climbing out of the recession or do we want to go back to the same policies that put us in the ditch in the first place?"

Kaine and Pfeiffer acknowledged the difficulty of transferring the grass-roots supporters that Obama cultivated over a historic two-year presidential bid to an array of other Democrats. "I don't think the magic has evaporated, but you have to acknowledge that the 2008 election was so historic and cathartic that you just don't hit that pitch in elections that often," Kaine said.

Confounding their effort is a toxic political climate six months before the elections that polls show favors Republicans. There is evidence, including recent high-profile GOP victories, that Obama and his party have lost the support of some of the independent voters who carried them to victory in recent years.

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