Obama rallies his youth brigade in Philadelphia

By Nia-Malika Henderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 30, 2010; 1:09 PM

PHILADELPHIA - With the debates over, ads flooding the airwaves and an election that's shaping up as a $4 billion contest finally coming to a close, Democrats are looking to something very basic for an edge: phone calls and door knocks.

So President Obama took his get out the vote message to Temple University as he made a closing argument for his party's agenda.

His speech was short and his message simple.

"I want everybody to get out there, knock on doors, make phone calls, volunteer, talk to your friends, talk to your neighbors, go into the beauty shops, the barbershops your church," he said. "If you do that, I am confident, we aren't just going to win this election, but we are going to keep on moving this country forward."

The crowd of 1,000 - mostly young people chanting campaign slogans and wearing Obama T-shirts circa 2008 - are exactly the type of voters that Democrats will need to stave off a midterm rout. This weekend, Obama's schedule has stops in four urban areas.

Obama has visited this city, which is key to Democrats' chances of victory in statewide races, four times over the past six weeks, and first lady Michelle Obama will hold a rally here Monday.

And the Democratic National Committee has poured more than $50 million into the get-out-the-vote effort in a bid to get at least a share of the 15 million young and first-time voters from 2008.

Over recent weeks, Obama has drawn an audience of about 185,000 people with 10 rallies in different states, and party leaders said they see some momentum.

"If you look at the polling in Pennsylvania and California, after the president's visits there, Democrats either closed the gap or in some instances widened their lead," said Mitch Stewart, executive director of Organizing for America, the DNC's grass-roots branch. "These events are a real shot in the arm for our organization specifically, but also to the candidates that are running there."

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter who said that 2010 is about 2012, said that "we are going to drive turn out aggressively in this city."

"Every elected official is focused on this election," he said. "They are mobilizing all over Philly and the suburbs."

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett in remarks Thursday suggested that his aim is to keep turnout in Philadelphia down, comments that Nutter said have galvanized the base.

Most polls show Democrats running behind in statewide races here, where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by about 1 million. Even with that edge, early absentee ballot requests and returns show a GOP tilt in this state that went for Obama by 10 points in the presidential contest.

In the Senate race, Rep. Joe Sestak, who told the audience Saturday "we need you," trails Pat Toomey, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato, lags by a wide margin in his race against Corbett. In congressional races, at least three Democrats are in toss-up contests.

At the DNC rally here, organizers struck up the old Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder campaign tunes, aiming to rekindle the fervor, and close a yawning enthusiasm gap. Obama told his supporters "you cannot stop now" and said that "unless each of you turn out . . . we can fall short."

"Two years ago was not about me, it was about you and it was about this country," he said. "I said then that change was going to be hard. Now we've been involved in some tough fights over the two years, we can't move backwards now, we gotta keep moving forward."

At a Friday rally for Rep. Tom Perriello in Charlottesville, Obama challenged the crowd to defy the conventional wisdom that assumes low voter turnout, and hearkened back to his campaign for the White House.

"Some of you got involved in 2008 because you believed we were at a defining moment in our history. We still are," Obama told a crowd Friday. "You believed this is a time where the decisions we make won't just affect us, but will affect future generations, our children and our grandchildren. That's still true."

In his weekly radio address he singled out Rep. John Boehner, who could become the speaker should Democrats lose 39 seats, and potential Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (the GOP needs 10 seats to take over the Senate).

"The Republican leader of the House actually said that this is not the time for compromise. And the Republican leader of the Senate said his main goal after this election is simply to win the next one," he said. "I know that we're in the final days of a campaign. So it's not surprising that we're seeing this heated rhetoric. That's politics. But when the ballots are cast and the voting is done, we need to put this kind of partisanship aside - win, lose, or draw."

Yet Obama, in his seven-minute speech steered clear of partisan rhetoric, simply urging his supporters to meet their goal of 20,000 door knocks.

"In order for Joe Sestak to be successful and Dan Onorato to be successful and the entire Democratic ticket to be successful, you are going to need to talk to folks everywhere you can," he said.

Before his kicking off his four-state weekend campaign swing, Obama spoke Saturday morning with British Prime Minister David Cameron about the foiled terrorist plot involving packages of explosives sent from Yemen and bound for Chicago synagogues.

The White House said that the terrorist threat would not disrupt Obama's plans to visit his home town later Saturday for another get-out-the-vote rally, where his friend Alexi Giannoulias, is in a neck-and-neck in the race for Obama's old Senate seat against Republican Mark Kirk.

Obama returns Sunday to the White House after a rally in Cleveland.

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