Obama's election mastermind: GOP win 'plausible'
Democrats aim to paint Republicans as party of obstruction and indifference
"I think the prospect of a Republican takeover — while not likely, but plausible — will be very much part of the dynamic in October, and I think that will help us with turnout and some of this enthusiasm gap," said David Plouffe, who was Obama's campaign manager two years ago and is helping to oversee Democratic efforts this fall. Still, he put all Democrats on notice, saying: "We'd better act as a party as if the House and the Senate and every major governor's race is at stake and in danger, because they could be."
Plouffe and other Democratic strategists say Obama will play an important role in making the case that the Republican Party is one of obstruction and indifference. But they think the outcome in November will depend as much on the skill of candidates in mobilizing potential supporters who are now disinclined to vote.
Independent projections show Republicans in range of winning the 39 additional seats they need to regain power in the House. Taking control of the Senate appears more difficult: Republicans would have to win virtually all the competitive races. But Democrats still are likely to return in January with their majority in the Senate significantly diminished.
Economic discontent remains the biggest threat to the Democrats' political prospects this fall. The issue has become more acute with growing fears that the economy has lost steam in recent weeks. Friday's unemployment report will provide more evidence.
"I think that as long as the economy is struggling, the economy is going to be a decisive issue," White House senior adviser David Axelrod said. "The question is whether people believe at the end of the day [that] turning backward to the policies that got us into the disaster is really the answer. That's a debate we're going to have."
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Treacherous path Obama's strategists have been analyzing the state of the electorate and have concluded that the path for Democrats is treacherous but that there is room for improvement before November. They must woo back some independent voters who have defected since 2008 while boosting turnout beyond historical patterns for midterm elections among the millions of new or irregular voters who were energized by Obama's campaign.
At this point, GOP voters are significantly more motivated to cast ballots in November. Plouffe said that, because there is little likelihood that Republican enthusiasm will wane before then, "we have a lot less margin for error."
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"I think by the time this thing is through, no one's going to say, 'Gee, I don't think he put a good effort into it,' " Axelrod said.
Fundraising The president plans an extensive round of fundraising for Democrats this summer. He will also ramp up his activity as the party's chief politician. But the weight of holding the party's majorities may fall more heavily on candidates.
The Democratic National Committee has begun a program designed to increase turnout in November among the first-time and irregular voters who backed Obama in 2008. But advisers say many of these voters won't show up in November unless candidates make personal connections with them.
One way will be by raising the prospect of a GOP takeover. Unlike 1994, when Republicans took control of the House for the first time in 40 years, "it's not hard to remind people of what the Republican experiment will be," Plouffe said. "It's very fresh in their mind."
Democrats plan to highlight success stories, but they are being told they also must make the case against their opponents. "The key is to go into these districts, these battleground districts, and win them on the ground, win them on the attack with aggressive campaigns, win them in field, one by one," Axelrod said.
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