Politics

White House Shifts To Campaign Mode

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The White House is now campaigning full-steam ahead for the upcoming midterm elections. But the landscape is daunting. President Obama's poll numbers keep falling and the Republican Party may have a historic Election Day unless the Democrats pull off something dramatic in the next few weeks.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

We are now eight weeks away from the midterm elections. The White House is stepping up its role and is facing tough odds. Polls are not being kind to Democrats. Their biggest political problem right now is the economic slowdown, and so the White House is spending this week laying out new efforts to nurse the economy back to health.

Yesterday, we reported on President Obama's call for billions of dollars in infrastructure investment. Tomorrow, the president will announce a new package of business tax credits.

Joining us to discuss the political landscape is NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, more and more polls coming out, and they are all suggesting the outlook for Democrats: not so good.

MARA LIASSON: Not so good. They're bad, and they're getting worse. Today, there were a bunch of new polls that just showed more of the same: president's approval rating dropping. The generic ballot, that is, would you rather have a Republican or a generic Democrat representing you in Congress, the gap is bigger now. Republicans are favored by as many as nine points. The enthusiasm gap, many more Republicans much more enthusiastic about voting than Democrats.

And analysts, like Charlie Cook and Stu Rothenberg, are expanding the number of House seats they think the Republicans could pick up. They only need 39 to take control. So it's not a good outlook. And for Democrats who woke up this morning, read the paper, they probably wanted to go back to bed and pull the covers over their heads.

BLOCK: What could conceivably the White House and Democrats do to try to turn the tide around?

LIASSON: Well, they're trying to do everything they can. The president is laying out the big argument - that's what presidents can do. He gives the big speeches. Yesterday, he talked, as you said, about infrastructure. Tomorrow, he'll make another series of economic proposals for business tax breaks. They won't necessarily pass, and they won't necessarily help the economy in time for November even if they did pass, but it does give Democrats something to talk about.

Because don't forget, the Democrats' plan A didn't work. They were hoping that this would be the end of a recovery summer. They talked about those green shoots of growth in the spring, which now, of course, have stalled. So now, they really didn't have any message other than it would have been worse without what we did, and do you really want to go back to Bush. Now, interestingly enough, people do still blame Bush for the recession, but they hold President Obama accountable for the recovery.

So tomorrow, in addition to the president making his economic proposals, you're going to see the vice president on television on the morning shows and on late night comedy shows. Then Tim Kaine, the man who has his finger in the dike here, he's the chairman of the Democratic Party, he's going to be speaking at noon in Philadelphia. And his task is to see if a good ground game, a good get-out-the-vote operation, like the Democrats have had in the last two cycles, can blunt this huge pro-Republican wave that's coming at Democrats. You know, can good mechanics help just enough Democrats to survive so they can keep the House and Senate.

BLOCK: And is the plan still to deploy Michelle Obama as well?

LIASSON: Yes, she will be out there. She's very popular. She's wanted in a lot of places, and she will be campaigning for Democrats. She will not be delivering a harsh partisan message.

BLOCK: Now, in terms of money, Mara, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has said they will be cutting loose some Democrats, in terms of contributing cash to the campaigns, the ones that they think just do not have a chance of winning. The party is going to have to make some tough calculations to figure out whom they can invest in.

LIASSON: Yes, as every party does, because no one has an unlimited funds. The problem is that you don't want to talk about that because immediately once Chris van Hollen said that, Republicans were pointing to individual Democrats who were trailing in the polls and saying, oh see, she's going to be - she or he is going to be one of those cut loose.

Now, interestingly enough, today, Chris van Hollen sent out a fundraising letter for Mary Jo Kilroy saying that The New York Times has erroneously said I'm going to cut her off but in fact I'm not at all. So this is a problem. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you're a Democratic candidate trailing in the polls, who will give you money if you think Chris van Hollen has cut you off.

BLOCK: Right. NPR's Mara Liasson, thanks very much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

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