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Progressives hope 'One Nation' coalition can recapture grass-roots fervor

The Fix combed through the past 30 years of elections to find the campaigns that left winners and losers equally bruised.

Liberal leaders see "much of the progressive agenda at risk in this election," said Paul Starr, a professor of public affairs at Princeton University and co-editor of the American Prospect, a liberal magazine. "There is no choice but for these groups to get together. The historical pattern is that voter turnout falls disproportionately among minorities and young people at these midterm elections, so they are fighting a historical trend."

Leaders of the groups have been meeting for about three months in a planning process that some participants called arduous, debating everything from the name of the coalition to what the branding and logo should look like.

The coalition's first goal is to plan a march to "demonstrate to Congress that these agenda items have support across multiple demographics," Jealous said. The demonstration, to be held Oct. 2, will center on pressing for more government spending on job creation.

"This is a way to create some intensity," said Eric Rodriguez, vice president of the National Council of La Raza. "Month after month, we spend time pointing to these employment figures, and we're still not breaking through on the disparities in a way that we think is important."

At their national conventions this week, NAACP and La Raza leaders will talk to their members about "One Nation," and they are seeking money from foundations for the effort. They hope it will be a show of force that will remind Congress and the White House that they are out there.

Some activists say Obama has not lived up to their expectations, and Michael McGerr, a professor of history at Indiana University who has studied political campaigns, said he could be pushed harder.

The effort has a historical parallel in a story that Obama has told on the campaign trail. According to the story, when labor organizer and civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph met with President Franklin D. Roosevelt to press his issues, Roosevelt told Randolph that he agreed with him, but that Randolph should "go out and make me do it."

"They are calling the Democratic Party back to what has been the pattern of successful liberalism in the 20th century," McGerr said.

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