In Backyards And On Campus, Obama Rallies Dems

With five weeks left to Election Day, President Obama is trying to rekindle some of his 2008 campaign magic on college campuses while also devoting more time to a relatively new format of backyard visits that give him time to explain his policies in cozy, unhurried settings.

The two-step strategy, which will play out in four states Tuesday and Wednesday, confronts Democrats' two biggest needs: to pump enthusiasm into young supporters who may stay at home this fall, and to persuade undecided voters that Republican alternatives are unacceptable.

Mr. Obama was in Albuquerque on Tuesday for the first of three backyard meetings with voters this week. He has recently embraced this form of intimate-but-televised event to defend and explain his record on the economy, health care and other topics.

On Tuesday night, Mr. Obama will headline a rally at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he hopes to replicate the raucous, youthful, big-stage events for which he became famous in the 2008 presidential campaign. Democrats will host hundreds of "watch parties" nationwide, and Mr. Obama will hold other campus rallies before Nov. 2 to warn young voters that the "hope and change" they embraced two years ago is at risk if Republicans sweep these midterm elections.

It's not clear that either format can close the "enthusiasm gap" that pollsters say separates discouraged liberal voters from energized conservatives who might lift Republicans to huge gains in congressional and gubernatorial races.

In an interview, meanwhile, Mr. Obama admonished Democratic voters, saying it would be "inexcusable" and "irresponsible" for unenthusiastic Democrats to sit out the midterm elections because the consequences could be a squandered agenda for years.

"People need to shake off this lethargy. People need to buck up," Mr. Obama told Rolling Stone magazine in an interview being published Friday. Making change happen is hard, he said, and "if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren't serious in the first place."

Many frustrated Democrats want Mr. Obama to recapture his crowd-swaying charm. A rally in a big college town like Madison might do the trick. But Mr. Obama isn't on the ballot this time, and Democrats are in a defensive crouch, trying to convince voters that the administration's expanded health care benefits, stimulus spending and other initiatives deserve more credit than they're getting.

Mr. Obama wants Democratic loyalists to be less apologetic and more forceful in asserting that he and the Democratic-controlled Congress are trying to move the country forward and Republicans would return to the policies of George W. Bush. White House officials say House GOP members made that task a bit easier last week by releasing their "Pledge to America," outlining their plans for governing if they regain the majority they lost in 2006.

Mr. Obama told student journalists Monday that the Republicans have signaled plans "to give $4 trillion worth of tax breaks, $700 billion of those going to millionaires and billionaires, each of whom would get on average a $100,000 check."

Mr. Obama wants to roll back the Bush-era tax cuts for households making more than $250,000 a year. "That's a big choice," he told the college journalists. "That has big consequences."

The president has embraced the backyard settings as a way to hear questions and concerns from ordinary - and almost always friendly - voters, and to provide details about what he's trying to do.

He will use the format to continue hitting Republicans on their "pledge," said White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer. The Albuquerque event will focus largely on education, Pfeiffer said, adding that the House Republican plan would make severe cuts in federal education spending.

Mr. Obama is also scheduled to hold backyard events Wednesday in Des Moines, Iowa, and Richmond, Va., before returning to Washington that night.

Mr. Obama told the college journalists Monday that he will tell young people in Madison they shouldn't lose their hope and enthusiasm for the issues that excited them in 2008, including better health care and a more secure economic future.

"Even though this may not be as exciting as a presidential election, it's going to make a huge difference in terms of whether we're going to be able to move our agenda forward over the next couple of years," the president said.

This program aired on September 28, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.


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