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Obama Rallies His Base To Back Midterm Candidates

Supporters listen as President Obama speaks during a rally for the Democratic National Committee at Ohio State University in Columbus on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010.
Saul Loeb
Supporters listen as President Obama speaks during a rally for the Democratic National Committee at Ohio State University in Columbus on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010.

President Obama spent the weekend on the campaign trail in hopes of boosting his party's chances in midterm elections. The president's goal is to make sure Democrats who voted for him in 2008 — especially young people — don't sit this year out.

With elections just 15 days away, the focus has shifted to voter turnout.

In Columbus, Ohio, Franklin County Democratic Party Chairman William Anthony began worrying about whether Democrats would show up at the polls this year almost as soon as the votes were counted in 2008.


In an NPR interview last October, he said, "I'm concerned about voter apathy. I'm concerned about low voter turnout. I'm concerned about folks that just give up on it, go back to life as normal. Just because we won, don't mean we're going to continue to win. I mean, we could lose everything — or we could retain it."

Anthony seems to have predicted where Democrats find themselves today.

Polls show independents are moving toward Republican candidates this year. And even Democrats who still back the president are frustrated over the slow pace of the economic recovery.

So Obama is out on the stump, trying to re-energize his base.

At an outdoor rally on the campus of Ohio State University in Columbus on Sunday night, the president was introduced by his wife. It was their first joint campaign appearance since 2008.


"Are you fired up and ready to go?" Michele Obama asked. "Then it is my honor to introduce to you my husband."

Police estimated that the crowd on campus totaled 35,000.

The president's voice was noticeably hoarse as he spoke: "I know there are people out there who are just hanging by a thread, people who are hurting. It's what keeps me up at night. It's what keeps me fighting. But I also know this: The biggest mistake we could make right now, Ohio, is to go back to the very same policies that caused all this hurt in the first place."

All year, polls have given Republicans a big edge in enthusiasm, but Democrats are turning to their ground game to mobilize voters. It's an area where they have traditionally held an advantage.

There's a special focus on groups the party can usually count on: lifelong Democrats, union members and voters younger than 30. That includes Ohio State students, who spent part of the weekend making phone calls for Gov. Ted Strickland, who is trailing in the polls.

Sophomore Jenna Schwartz, 19, said she has been talking to students, trying to convince them that they need to vote in November.

"Definitely getting people to understand that this is really important and that it's really relevant to their lives. It directly affects them. I know it's not big and glamorous, but we still need to win these smaller elections," Schwartz added.

She said the president's visit to the campus helps her make that case.

Also this past weekend, a couple hundred longtime activists and campaign workers gathered downtown at Columbus Bar and Grille to kick off Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts.

Anthony, the Franklin County Democratic Party chairman, said Democrats aren't trying to repeat 2008.

"That's not doable. Traditionally, you're not going to get as many voters in a gubernatorial year as in a presidential year. So we're just trying to get enough votes to come out to retain, hold and keep what we've got," he said.

In his interview last year with NPR, he said Democrats could keep what they won in '08, or they could lose everything.

This time around, he said, "I'm going to say it again this year: It's up to the voters. I can do all that I can, but it's up to the voters. It's up to the voters."