Midterm Results To Chart Course Of Obama's Term

For the past two years, the president has had strong Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. He has used those majorities to push sweeping legislation through Congress against the almost unanimous opposition of Republicans. After Tuesday, those Congressional majorities will almost certainly shrink — and may disappear altogether. He's making one last push to hold on.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Welcome back, Renee. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Political analysts settled into their predictions over the weekend. Many see Republicans with an excellent chance to take the House.

MONTAGNE: They say Democrats may be able to hold a reduced majority in the Senate, but we don't really know until after everyone finishes voting.

INSKEEP: Two numbers in a Washington Post survey suggest the range of possibilities. The survey actually shows Democrats with a lead among all voters.

MONTAGNE: But among those likely to show up, Republicans hold an edge, as they have for months. Republican enthusiasm could make John Boehner the next speaker of the House, and we'll hear from his campaign in a moment.

INSKEEP: We begin with President Obama defending Democratic candidates in Ohio.

Here's NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro.

ARI SHAPIRO: When historians look back on this week, they could see it as a pivot point in the Obama presidency. For the last two years, the president has had strong Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. He has used those majorities to push sweeping legislation through Congress against the almost unanimous opposition of Republicans. There was the stimulus package, health care and new Wall Street regulations. After tomorrow, those congressional majorities will almost certainly shrink, and they may disappear altogether.

This weekend was President Obama's last push to hold on. The campaign went from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania...

President BARACK OBAMA: So I want everybody to get out there, knock on doors, make phone calls, volunteer.

SHAPIRO: ...to Bridgeport, Connecticut...

Pres. OBAMA: If you're going to the barbershops and the beauty shops, talking to your friends and talking to your neighbors...

SHAPIRO: ...to Chicago, Illinois...

(Soundbite of cheering)

Pres. OBAMA: I need you to get out and vote in this election...

(Soundbite of cheering)

Pres. OBAMA: ...because if you do, if you're willing to step up, if you're willing to try...

SHAPIRO: ...and finally, to Cleveland, Ohio.

Pres. OBAMA: ...we will restore our economy. We will rebuild our middle class, and we will reclaim the American dream for future generations. God bless you.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Pres. OBAMA: And God bless the United States of America.

(Soundbite of cheering)

SHAPIRO: These were all states that President Obama carried two years ago. But now, Democrats are no longer trying to expand their reach. They're just trying to hang on by whatever margin they can eke out.

Presidential advisor David Axelrod spoke with reporters about the outlook for the House as the Chicago rally was wrapping up.

Mr. DAVID AXELROD (Adviser to President Obama): You know, it's obviously very competitive. We knew that going in. We won 55 seats in the last couple years. I think 49 were in districts that Senator McCain carried in the presidential election. We - so we're playing on difficult turf in a midterm election. We knew of all those factors going in, so it's not a huge surprise that we're fighting hard there.

SHAPIRO: In the Senate, Democrats have a better chance of holding onto control than they do in the House, but not by anything close to the 60 seats the Democrats held a year ago. Even the Illinois Senate seat once held by Barack Obama could go Republican this year.

Illinois Senator Richard Durbin is currently the second-most powerful Senate Democrat. Before the Chicago rally, he told me if the election had been a month ago, there's no way Democrats would have kept Mr. Obama's old seat.

Senator RICHARD DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): If this election had happened October 2nd, there would've been a different outcome. But I think we have caught our stride and we have a terrific Get Out the Vote effort going on here and across the country. And I think it can be a big difference.

SHAPIRO: Can I just ask, personally, how it feels to be fighting so hard to hold onto this seat that President Obama held when he was a senator?

Sen. DURBIN: I never take any election for granted. I lost three elections before I ever won one. I don't assume a thing. The voters have the last word. And if you get - you have to get up, roll up your sleeves and go to work, that's what it's all about.

SHAPIRO: President Obama's message in the final days is that fixing America requires the parties to work together, but he says Republicans are more interested in winning elections.

At Cleveland State University yesterday, he gave a crowd of 8,000 supporters a partisan version of his unity, hope and change message from two years ago.

Pres. OBAMA: We're not seeing that from the other party. I guess there feeling cocky, maybe.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. OBAMA: The Republican leader of the House says: "This is not a time for compromise." That's a quote. The Republican leader in the Senate said his main goal for the next two years - his top priority is to win the next election and to beat me.

SHAPIRO: Mr. Obama called that the kind of politics that puts scoring points above solving problems.

The Republican leader of the House that Mr. Obama mentioned is Ohio Congressman John Boehner. This final presidential rally of the 2010 midterms was right in Boehner's home state.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, travelling with the president.

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