Democrats Eye Young, Minorities For Midterm Boost Getting the 15 million first-time voters who supported Barack Obama in 2008 to return to the polls in November is a major focus of the party's $50 million midterm mobilization. But relying on people who haven't voted reliably in the past could be a risky strategy.
NPR logo Democrats Eye Young, Minorities For Midterm Boost

Democrats Eye Young, Minorities For Midterm Boost

Millions of voters got an e-mail this past week, directing them to a new video featuring President Obama. It's the opening salvo in Democrats' battle to defend their majorities in the House and Senate.

Congressional Democrats face an uphill battle in November: Unemployment is sky high, and Obama's approval rating is hovering at or below 50 percent. If history is any guide, many would-be Democratic voters are likely to sit the election out.

"In a midterm election, certain kinds of voters show up and certain kinds don't," said Stuart Rothenberg, who edits the Rothenberg Political Report.

He said the kind of voters who typically don't show up include young people, African-Americans and Latinos, the very groups whose groundswell of support helped to elect Obama and many other Democrats in 2008.

Obama is trying to boost their turnout this time around. His video appeal was aimed at turning 2008's first-time voters into second-time voters in 2010.

"It will be up to each of you to make sure that the young people, African-Americans, Latinos and women who powered our victory in 2008 stand together once again," he said.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine said the party has identified 15 million of these new voters who supported Obama in 2008. Targeting those voters and getting them back to the polls will be a major focus of the party's $50 million midterm mobilization.

"We know who these voters are. We know where they are. We know their loyalty to the president," Kaine said. "But the challenge that we're tackling in a, I think, a creative way is getting them engaged in the midterm elections in significant ways."

Kaine said that if just 10 percent of those voters came back to the polls, they could provide a winning margin in close races. It's a risky strategy, though, to rely on people who haven't voted reliably in the past.

In reaching out to voters, old and new, Democrats will argue they are the party of results, while trying to brand Republicans as obstructionists. Kaine listed the passage of health care legislation, a modest improvement in the job market and progress on financial reform as accomplishments to which Democrats can point.

"There's never a risk to be running on results," he said. "Now, it's up to us to tell the story well."

That's easier said than done. The public is still deeply divided on the health care law, skeptical about the government's economic stimulus and angry about the growing deficit. The crackdown on Wall Street may be Democrats' most popular initiative, which is one reason Republicans are allowing it to move forward.

Republican Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia complained that if Democrats are the party of results, they are "bad results." Rothenberg said Democrats have a tough sell in pitching those results.

"If the public felt positive, was upbeat, optimistic, enthusiastic about the future, then talking about the successes would be a terrific strategy," Rothenberg said. "Now it's the best that Democrats have, but people are grumpy. They don't want to hear that things are better. They don't believe they're better."

Even as he touted a new report showing solid economic growth on Friday, Obama acknowledged there's a long way to go on the road to recovery. Voters will decide in November whether it's time for a political U-turn.