In 2008, Barack Obama won the presidency by expanding the electorate, and competing for votes among ideological groups and within geographic areas that Democrats don't normally go near. He ended up winning in states such as Virginia and Indiana, which Bush carried easily. And he beat John McCain among independents by 8 points. But a lot has changed in two years.
With less than a month left before the midterm elections, the New York Times reports that the White House has narrowed its focus to trying to rile up the liberal base, in hopes that it can mitigate the potential disaster facing the Democratic Party. This strategy became apparent to me back in July, when I was covering the Netroots Nation conference of liberal activists. At the time, Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid essentially delivered the same message to the audience: We've accomplished a lot, a lot more needs to be done, so work to get us reelected or else Republicans will try to undo our gains and thwart the rest of our agenda.
In a pretty pathetic episode for a sitting president, the Times reports that Obama has been reduced to pleading with college students not to abandon him:
“You can’t sit it out,” he told a conference call of college student journalists last week. “You can’t suddenly just check in once every 10 years or so, on an exciting presidential election, and then not pay attention during big midterm elections where we’ve got a real big choice between Democrats and Republicans.” He added that “the energy that you were able to bring to our politics in 2008, that’s needed not less now, it’s needed more now.”
Whenever a party is reduced to shoring up its base, it is a pretty good indication that their own internal polls aren't very encouraging, and suggests that they have given up on winning the independents. The problem for Democrats, as the article itself notes, is that there simply aren't as many liberals as there are conservatives. So while Republicans may be able to get away with a "get out the base" strategy in the midterms, Democrats need to win over independents, as they did in 2006 and 2008. Instead, they're running away from independents.
There's been a lot of talk about Democrats narrowing the gap, but the White House sure isn't acting like it.
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