Left Rallies Enthusiasm On The National Mall

Labor unions, the NAACP and activists with Organizing for America are holding a rally on the National Mall in Washington Saturday. NPR National Political Correspondent Mara Liasson tells host Scott Simon this largely Democratic effort is meant to try and bridge the "enthusiasm gap" that has favored conservatives this election season.

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Good to be back with you.

Today in Washington, D.C., liberal activists from the NAACP, labor unions, environmental groups and others are all joining forces for a rally on the National Mall. It's all part of an effort to bridge what's called the enthusiasm gap that so far has seemed to favor conservatives this election season. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And help us read the tea leaves on the significance of this rally.

LIASSON: Well, the organizers say that they are the antidote - not the alternative - to the Tea Party. And as you know, Democrats have been famously unenthusiastic, as you said, and also in some cases undisciplined, where the Tea Party and the conservative forces has really stepped in to fill that void. And, of course, you've seen the big rally that Glenn Beck got on the Mall. And although the organizers of today's rally say they're not doing this in response to Glenn Beck, there will be the inevitable comparisons of those overhead photos of the crowd size to see who got out more people.

There is a little problem. I've been getting a lot of emails in my inbox for doctors coming today who are going to march against Obama's health care plan. They want single payer. There are a lot of anti-war groups against the president's policy in Afghanistan. So they're not all singing on the same page as the Democrats, but I do think the net effect of these groups, unions, civil rights groups, et cetera, will be, if they succeed, to energize Democratic voters for November.

SIMON: President Obama held a rally in Madison, Wisconsin this week that reportedly drew 26,000 people. Madison's a pretty - Dane County - pretty heavily Democratic territory. It was the first of four rallies that he's planned, and what's on his political agenda with these events?

LIASSON: Well, he needs to fire up his base. He needs, he went back to Madison, which was the site of a very big rally he held in 2008, and lo and behold, much to a lot of people's surprise he got just as big a turnout among these supposedly unenthusiastic young people. What he is trying to do is rekindle the hope and enthusiasm that he created in 2008, particularly among those Obama surge voters. Those are the voters that he brought out for the very first time. He expanded the electorate in 2008.

So that's the tactical reason he's there. The Democratic Party is spending about $50 million to try to rekindle enthusiasm among these voters also.

On the message front, what he's telling them is you might not be completely happy with all the change we've been able to - or unable to effect in the last two years, but the other side is worse. So he's trying to rekindle that hope with a healthy dose of fear of the Republicans.

SIMON: It seems like for months now we've been hearing that the prospects for the Democrats in this upcoming election look to be just dreadful. But, you know, conventional wisdom in a campaign season can have a short shelf life. Any signs that the president's campaigning now is helping raise his prospects?

LIASSON: Well, that's very hard to tell. Certainly the White House feels having him out there is going to help. Democrats on the Hill want him out there. They think it's very important. But there really are no hard evidence yet that it's making a difference. There are races around the country where the polls are tightening and Democrats are starting to do better, like Barbara Boxer, the senator from California.

On the other hand, there are other races where the polls show that it's getting worse for Democrats, including in Wisconsin - that's one of the reasons why the president was there - Russ Feingold is really in the fight of his life. So it's not clear yet.

SIMON: Anything you're going to watch for in particular these next few weeks, Mara?

LIASSON: Yes. I want to see what likely voters do. I'm going to start ignoring all the polls that poll registered voters. I'm only interested in likely voters - the voters who are the most enthusiastic and will turn out to vote. That's what I'll be watching.

SIMON: Well, clue us in on it, OK, when you find out.

LIASSON: I will.

SIMON: All right. NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson. Thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you, Scott.

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