Obama Tells Crowd 'We Need You To Stay Fired Up'

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One of the big challenges facing Democrats in the upcoming elections is the so-called "enthusiasm gap." Many voters who backed President Obama two years ago, are expected to sit on the sidelines this year. Obama is making an effort to close that gap, with a series of campaign rallies across the country.


A big challenge facing Democrats in the November elections is the so-called enthusiasm gap. Many voters who backed President Obama two years ago may not even show up to vote this year. The president is making an effort to close that gap with a series of campaign rallies, like the one last night in Madison, Wisconsin. NPRs Scott Horsley was there.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Last nights rally was a kind of political time machine for President Obama. He and his audience were briefly transported back to 2008, when the candidate was rocking college campuses across the country.

President BARACK OBAMA: Hello Wisconsin.

(Soundbite of cheering)

HORSLEY: The smiling, shirt-sleeved president stood in front of thousands of supporters outside the University of Wisconsin library. A bright blue banner, overhead, said Moving America Forward.

Mr. OBAMA: We need you to stay fired up. Because theirs is an election on November 2nd that says a lot about the future - your future and the future of our country.

HORSLEY: College-aged voters played a big role in the last election, helping to propel Barack Obama into the White House. But polls suggest theyre much less likely to vote in this years midterms a worrisome indicator for the Democrats. Mr. Obama acknowledged with the tough economic times and the rancor in Washington, the hope and excitement of his 2008 election seem like a distant memory. But he urged his supporters not to give up on the political process.

Mr. OBAMA: The biggest mistake we can make right now, is to let disappointment or frustration lead to apathy and indifference. That is how the other side wins. And I want everybody to be clear, make no mistake: if the other side does win, they will spend the next two years fighting for the very same policies that led to this recession in the first place.

HORSLEY: Democratic organizers tried to multiply the impact of last nights rally by staging watch parties around the country. Some Democratic candidates are keeping their distance from the President. But Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, who's in a tough reelection race, joined Mr. Obama in Madison. Feingold told the crowd of more than 20-thousand he was happy to be there.

Senator RUSS FEINGOLD (Democrat, Wisconsin): This doesnt look like an enthusiasm gap to me.

(Soundbite of cheering)

HORSLEY: Many people in the crowd were wearing buttons or T-shirts from the 2008 campaign, including college sophomore Eric Lynn, who cast his first vote that year.

Mr. ERIC LYNN: I wore this T-shirt on the night Barack Obama was elected.

HORSLEY: Lynn said Mr. Obama hasnt necessarily lived up to all the expectations he held two years ago, but at least, he said, hes trying. Lynn thinks both the President and the country have had a lot of tough challenges thrown their way.

Mr. LYNN: I have to admit, the party has been not as enthusiastic. I think all around people are down, except for the Tea Party. But Barack Obamas main thing was he stood for hope. And the Tea Party feeds on fear, and thats not something I believe in.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. BEN HARPER: (Singing) Oh, I believe there's a better way...

HORSLEY: Singer Ben Harper served as the presidents warm-up act last night, just as he did on occasion two years ago. This time, Harpers voice had a wistful quality to it, as if his beliefs might have been tested.

But Mr. Obama showed no such doubts.

Mr. OBAMA: I am telling you, Wisconsin, we are bringing about change. And progress is going to come. But youve got to stick with me. You cant lose heart.

HORSLEY: The president plans to hold three more big rallies between now and Election Day. The success of this time machine will help to decide how much more time congressional Democrats have in power.

Scott Horsley, NPR news, traveling with the President.

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