Obama looks to reenergize youth vote, get late Democratic surge for midterms
Monday, September 27, 2010; 2:50 AM
MADISON, WIS. - President Obama will swoop into the heartland this week in a high-stakes bid to boost enthusiasm for Democrats by reigniting the coalition of young and minority voters who were critical to his success two years ago.
With polls showing independent voters swinging toward Republicans in Wisconsin and the nation's other battlegrounds, Democrats are turning elsewhere to make up ground. So on Tuesday in Madison, Obama will stage the first in a series of rallies on college campuses designed to persuade what some call his "surge" voters - the roughly 15 million Americans who voted for the first time in 2008 - to return to the polls this fall.
But without Obama on the ballot this year, his grass-roots network is a shadow of its former self. And with just five weeks before the midterm elections, Obama's political advisers acknowledge that transferring the goodwill he cultivated over a historic presidential bid to an array of other Democrats has proved difficult.
"A lot of these voters feel very strongly about the president, but still a lot of them aren't showing enough predilection to vote," said David Plouffe, Obama's 2008 campaign manager and an architect of the Democrats' midterm strategy.
When Obama steps onto a grass quad at the University of Wisconsin on Tuesday, he will deliver a newly tailored, more personalized campaign appeal aimed at ginning up enthusiasm, according to White House and senior Democratic officials. Plouffe said Obama will remind students of the work they put into his 2008 campaign and warn them that if they don't reengage now, "all that could be jeopardized."
The students on this leafy, generally liberal campus once constituted one of the strongest battalions in Obama's grass-roots army. Two years later, the political dynamic has changed. Across campus, stickers, signs or chalkings for any politician are scarce. The laundromat where Obama's young volunteers once staged late-night phone banks and planned bus trips to neighboring Iowa has gone out of business. And some students who say they voted for Obama in 2008 now say they don't even know who's on the ballot this fall.
Democrats hope Tuesday's rally could provide a needed jump-start. The event, featuring singer-songwriter Ben Harper, will be simulcast on more than 200 other campuses and be amplified by similar youth-oriented events in other states, featuring surrogates including Vice President Biden. On Monday, Obama will host an on-the-record conference call with college student journalists to tout his administration's record on issues important to young people.
On Saturday, student organizers waved signs outside Camp Randall Stadium as thousands of fans filed out of the football game. The Badgers won in a rout, and the young Democrats tried to break through the excitement of the game with perhaps a more exciting announcement: "President Obama on campus Tuesday!"
Some fans gave thumbs up or yelled "Go, Obama!" Others responded disapprovingly, as in "How's that hope and change working out for you?" Hundreds more walked past in their red-and-white gear without paying any attention.
"A lot of young people are not disenchanted with Obama," said Maggie Bahrmasel, a senior who volunteered for Obama in the Iowa caucuses and now directs campaign outreach for the College Democrats. "I think they just pay attention less."
Another student, Madeline Coyne, 21, said she waited in line to see Obama when he spoke on campus in 2008. Now, she said, "the euphoria has dimmed down."
Still, would she vote on Nov. 2?