DNC Chairman Kaine Kicks Off Fall Campaign

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine traveled to Pennsylvania Wednesday to preview the Democrats fall campaign message. Candidate Obama brought millions of new voters to the polls in 2008. Now Democrats face the difficult task of getting enough of first time voters back to the polls.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And in Philadelphia yesterday, the man responsible for delivering Democratic voters to the polls in November was trying to fire up his troops.

Here's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON: Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine is the man with his finger in the dyke this year, trying to help his party's congressional majorities withstand what looks like a tidal wave of Republican enthusiasm. In a speech to activists and union leaders at the University of Pennsylvania, he delivered what's become this year's Democratic rallying cry.

Mr. TIM KAINE: (Chairman, Democratic National Committee): Do we want to go back to the same failed economic policies that lost millions of people their jobs and lost trillions of dollars of people's savings?

Unidentified Group: No.

Mr. KAINE: All right, good. I like this. We're getting in the groove.

LIASSON: Barack Obama brought millions of new voters to the polls in 2008. Now the Democrats are facing the difficult task of getting enough of those first-time voters back to the polls at a time when the Democratic Congress is unpopular and President Obama is not on the ballot. To make sure the president's supporters understand the connection between Mr. Obama and his partners in Congress, Kaine told a story about his time as a tenor in his church choir.

Mr. KAINE: We used to sing this song that said: I don't feel no ways tired. I've come too far from where I started from. Nobody told me the road would be easy. I don't believe you brought me this far to leave me. We've started down this path, but we're not there yet. And so the road isn't easy. But we're not going to just step off the path now and leave the president and members of Congress to go on their own. We're going to be there for them, aren't we? Yeah. Absolutely.

(Soundbite of cheers and applause)

LIASSON: In Pennsylvania, retiring Governor Ed Rendell is facing the prospect of a Senate seat, the governor's mansion and key House races all flipping to the GOP this year, and he was frank about one of the Democrat's biggest obstacles.

Governor ED RENDELL (Democrat, Pennsylvania): The enthusiasm gap is all the press talks about. It's all the polls talk about. And the truth of the matter is, if we can bridge the enthusiasm gap, we're going to win. We're going to hold the House, hold the Senate. We're going to elect good governors. We're going to elect good people all across the country good, progressive Democrats.

(Soundbite of cheers and applause)

LIASSON: These are the Democrats' hardcore supporters, and they're still energized. But Danny Rodofsky, a senior at Penn, thought Democrats were right to worry. Like many in the crowd here, he volunteered for the Obama campaign in 2008.

Mr. DANNY RODOFSKY (Student, Penn University): I think especially with my generation and the young kids, I don't know if we're going to turn out in the same numbers we did for Obama.

LIASSON: Why? Marisa Jones says the reason is the same one that's at the root of all the president's political problems this year.

Ms. MARISA JONES: A lot of people are saying, you know, I don't have a job. Or I don't have the kind of job that I want - especially those of us who graduated from college hoping for jobs and are kind of stuck.

LIASSON: And if the economy makes them feel stuck and disillusioned, they're not as willing to work hard for Democrats or even come out and vote themselves, says Michael Loo.

Mr. MICHAEL LOO: We thought there was going to be a huge change in the country and a lot of people aren't quite sure that it's worth putting in the effort this time around if we're not going to get the promises that were made.

LIASSON: So if they can't convince people they got the change they wanted, maybe Tim Kaine and the Democrats can motivate their voters by scaring them about the kind of change they don't want at all.

Mr. KAINE: And you know what's worse than a do-nothing minority party in Congress? Giving the do-nothing party the majority. That's a lot worse.

Unidentified Man: No!

LIASSON: And 54 days until Election Day, that's how success or failure is defined. Democrats are no longer trying to limit their losses. They're just trying to hang onto their majorities any way they can.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Philadelphia.

(Soundbite of music)

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