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Obama plans major fall campaign rallies

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By Karen Tumulty
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 9, 2010; 10:21 PM

President Obama plans to return to the campaign trail in a big way this fall, with four major rallies planned in the crucial states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Nevada, as well as a "tele-town hall" in which he will talk to core supporters at thousands of gatherings across the country and over the Internet.

The events are designed to evoke the good ol' days of 2008. To many Democrats and the liberal faithful, the sight of Obama in full cry back on the stump will be a glimmer of light in an otherwise dim election season.

Obama's appearance in Cleveland on Wednesday felt much more like a rally than the economic policy speech it was billed as. In his address, he attacked Republican criticism of his economic policies.

That kind of campaigning is precisely what Democrats on Capitol Hill have been begging him to do, arguing that no one is better than Obama at laying out the distinctions between their party and the GOP. They also say he is their best hope for revving up the party's dispirited liberal base.

But is any of this likely to help the Democrats in November?

A lesson from not-so-distant history may give them pause.

In his memoir, "My Life," former president Bill Clinton recalled playing a similar role in the 1994 midterm elections, in which his party lost control of the House and the Senate.

Clinton later regarded the stumping as a mistake: "My campaign riffs were effective for the party faithful, but not for the larger audience who saw them on television; on TV, the hot campaign rhetoric turned a statesman-like president back into the politician the voters weren't sure about."

Some Clinton-era veterans worry that Obama might be making a similar misstep now, and point to his decision to go to Cleveland, where House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) gave his own economic speech a week before.

"Did anyone in America even know that Boehner had given a speech?" one Clinton White House strategist asked.

Obama slammed Boehner's remarks, saying they offered "the same philosophy that led to this mess in the first place: Cut more taxes for millionaires and cut more rules for corporations."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who would have to turn over her gavel to Boehner if Republicans win back the House in November, touted Obama's speech as a message to voters. The president "delivered a clear choice for Americans today: the Democratic vision for a stronger economy and a growing middle class versus the Republican plan to take us back to the exact same failed Bush policies of the past, cutting taxes for the wealthiest 2 percent, huge deficits and fewer jobs," Pelosi said.


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