Obama Tries To Motivate Voters During Philly Rally

In the last three weeks before midterm elections, President Obama is trying to close the enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats. That means mobilizing young and minority voters. Those groups are more likely to support Democrats and less likely to vote in midterms. On Sunday, Obama staged a rally in Philadelphia.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

The forecast you hear for this fall's congressional election depends on who you ask. More than presidential elections, it's hard to forecast outcomes. In a moment, we'll hear why surveys differ so much.

INSKEEP: Although one thing does seem certain: Democrats will lose seats. The question is how many, and that depends in part on whether President Obama can bring his 2008 supporters back to vote again. Young and minority voters are more likely to support Democrats but less likely to vote in midterm elections.

Hoping to encourage those voters, the president hosts an MTV town hall meeting this week.

WERTHEIMER: Yesterday, the president staged a rally in Philadelphia and NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro was there.

ARI SHAPIRO: Here in Philadelphia, political races catch the public's attention every so often. But there's another contest that has been ongoing for decades: Gino's versus Pat's. These cheese steak shops face-off on opposite corners of the same street. And in this battle, Anthony Barrasso is a veteran of both armies.

Mr. ANTHONY BARRASSO: At the age of 16, I started at Pat's Steaks when steaks were 75 cent. And I was making a $1.65 an hour.

SHAPIRO: So how many years did you spend at Pat's before you went to Gino's?

Mr. BARRASSO: Sixteen years.

SHAPIRO: Sixteen years at Pat's. And then...

Mr. BARRASSO: And then 10 over here.

SHAPIRO: And now?

Mr. BARRASSO: And now I'm unemployed, believe it or not. But I'm looking.

SHAPIRO: Welcome to the present day. When a Philly cheese steak costs almost 10 bucks and Anthony Barasso can't find a job. He voted for Barack Obama two years ago. And today? He shrugs.

Mr. BARRASSO: No, well, I'm losing my interest. I really am.

SHAPIRO: Do you know who's running for office this time?

Mr. BARRASSO: I don't even know, to be truthful with you. How's that? I haven't been paying attention to it too much. I didn't do my homework. What do you get? It's like politics with Gino's and Pat's. You buy a sandwich at Pat's. You buy one at Gino's. You cut them in half. Democrat or Republican, how you want to put it, you know?

SHAPIRO: People like Anthony Barrasso are the reason President Obama came back to Philadelphia. The president has three weeks to abolish apathy.

President BARACK OBAMA: Because our job is not yet done and the success of our mission is at stake right now. On November 2nd, I need you as fired up as you were in 2008.

(Soundbite of cheering)

SHAPIRO: The late afternoon sun shone on his face, as more than 18,000 people cheered. The audience was mostly black, with a strong showing from union workers in matching bright green shirts.

Mr. Obama spoke in the zealous, energetic cadence that was so familiar from the presidential campaign.

President OBAMA: Philly, let's prove them wrong.

(Soundbite of cheering)

President OBAMA: Let's show Washington one more time, change doesn't come from the top, it comes from the bottom. It doesn't come from millions of dollars of ads. It comes because people are out there, knocking on doors, making phone calls, going into the beauty shops, going into the barber shops.

(Soundbite of cheering)

SHAPIRO: Pennsylvania is a swing state that has been reliably Democratic in the last few election cycles. But this year that could change. There are governor, Senate, and House seats held by Democrats that all seem likely to go Republican. To the hard-core Democrats at this rally, that would be disaster.

Ms. BONNIE BRANDS(ph): My name is Bonnie Brands. And I just think people are impatient and they just want change, change, change, change, change and they're not allowing Obama - it's only been two years and they, you know, they complain and there's the Tea Party. I don't understand it. So I'm doing what I can to try and see him at least to have one, may be two terms. Bush had two terms to destroy the country, doesn't Obama deserve at least one to try and fix it?

SHAPIRO: This rally was designed to re-inspire people like 26-year-old Amanda Jacobs. But Jacobs was out riding her bike instead of attending the rally. She enthusiastically voted for Barack Obama two years ago, and today she's just not that into him.

Ms. AMANDA JACOBS: I'm kind of just jaded a little bit.

SHAPIRO: Why?

Ms. JACOBS: I guess I wanted more of a liberal type of atmosphere. You know, gay rights and I want the war to just be done.

SHAPIRO: Do you plan to vote this year?

Ms. JACOBS: No. No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. JACOBS: No, I'm really not into politics right now.

SHAPIRO: Democrats are wrestling with the fact that while young adults give Mr. Obama the highest marks of almost any voter group, they are also very unlikely to vote in midterms.

According to the Pew Research Center, only about one in four young voters went to the polls in the last two midterm elections. And according to Pew, that group is even less enthusiastic now.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News.

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