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Obama's task for midterm election: recapture 2008 magic

In a bid to minimize defeat, Democrats are strategically deploying the president to reenergize voters even as his job approval rating has dwindled.

July 13, 2010|By Peter Nicholas and Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau

In Portland, Ore., on Thursday, Biden headlined a $200-a-plate fundraiser for Rep. Kurt Schrader, a conservative Democrat who has boasted since his election in 2008 about reining in government spending. Folksier in style, Biden is trying to reach voters who may not be in sync with Obama.

In his remarks, Biden said of Schrader: "I encourage you, old buddy, to speak out. You're independent. Don't let anybody take that out of you."

More and more, Obama is taking on a partisan tone. He is weaving a story line peopled with villains and heroes, fools and leaders.

In a speech Thursday in Las Vegas, he mocked Sen. Harry Reid's election opponent, Republican Sharron Angle, saying she "favors an approach that's even more extreme than the Republicans we got in Washington. That's saying something."

Some Democratic political veterans are skeptical Obama can reach the voters he's targeting.

Tom Leonard, a Philadelphia lawyer and longtime Democratic Party fundraiser, said in an interview: "It's possible that bringing in Obama could juice the Democratic base and get them to the polls, but right now I don't feel a lot of energy to vote."

Obama isn't the first president to puzzle over the right role during midterm election season.

In 1982, President Reagan's approval rating was in the 40s and unemployment was nearly 10%.

A Reagan speechwriter at the time, Ken Khachigian, consulted with a presidential pollster and was told the basic message for the midterm election should be: "Stay the course."

"It turned out not to be a good idea," Khachigian said. Republicans lost 26 House seats that year.

With Obama in power, it's the Republicans who are mocking the stay-the-course message.

Indeed, as Obama made his way toward last week's fundraising event in Las Vegas, House Republican leader John A. Boehner of Ohio ridiculed the president's contention that the nation is "moving in the right direction."

"With all due respect, Mr. President, America doesn't agree," Boehner said.

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