President Obama argued Friday that Democrats will prevail in the 2014 midterms if they are able to paint the election as a decision between a platform offering “opportunity for all” versus “opportunity for few.”
“As Democrats, we have a different idea of what the future looks like, an idea rooted in our conviction that our economy grows best not from the top down but from the middle out. That's what an opportunity agenda offers,” Obama told attendees at the Democratic National Committee's winter meeting.
"That's why the outcome of this election is so important. It won't just set the direction of this country for the next two years; it will set the direction for this country for years to come. And the choice could not be clearer: opportunity for a few or opportunity for all."
Obama's attempt to rally the party comes ahead of what could be a tough battle to pick up House seats and protect their Senate majority in the fall.
In the Senate, Democrats are defending 21 of the 36 seats up for reelection, and campaign watchers widely expect the party to lose seats as they protect a fragile six-seat majority. Democrats in red states like South Dakota, West Virginia and Montana have retired, and Sens. Mark Pryor (Ark.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Kay Hagan (N.C.) are facing tough races.
Some of those vulnerable lawmakers have openly criticized the White House — evidence Obama's lagging approval rating could be a handicap.
But Democrats believe a focus on the economy can help combat the president's lagging popularity.
A memo prepared by Obama pollster Joel Benenson and provided by the White House found that the "economy continues to be the central issue on voters' minds."
Benenson's data found "creating jobs and a more secure economy" and "restoring middle class security" were the two highest ranking issues voters say will impact their ballots in 2014. More than seven in 10 voters ranked both issues as "very important."
The pollster also found that Democrats had substantial advantages on issues like equal pay for women, education, and increasing the minimum wage. At the same time, nearly six in 10 voters say Republican policies are designed mostly to help people at the top. More than 60 percent of voters call Republican lawmakers out of touch with ordinary Americans, a point the White House hopes to exploit in 2014.
Obama looked to push that advantage Friday, saying Republicans continued to offer "a theory of the economy that time and again has failed America."
"They think they should we should give more tax breaks to those at the top and invest less in things like education and research," he said. "I'm not making that up."
The president also took aim at Republican lawmakers, mocking their efforts to appeal to women voters.
"I saw some Republicans in Congress brought in outside aides to teach them how to talk to women," Obama said. "It is unclear how they've gotten this far without that particular skill. But talking the talk ain't walking the walk."
And Obama accused Republicans of being "obsessed with repealing the Affordable Care Act" — another vulnerability identified in Benenson's polling data.
"You know what they say: The 50th time is the charm. Maybe when you hit your 50th repeal vote you will win a prize. Maybe if you buy 50 repeal votes you get one free," Obama joked.
He also acknowledged that his focus on executive actions — which "have gotten Republicans in Congress all stirred up" — was also intended to draw contrasts with the opposing party.
But while Obama may be refining his message ahead of the midterms, Republicans are confident he'll continue to be an anchor on Democratic candidates. The most recent Gallup poll found that just 42 percent of Americans approve of the president's handling of his job, while a majority of 54 percent disapprove.
In a tacit acknowledgment of that problem, one White House official said they recognized "it doesn’t make sense to have a sitting Democratic president campaign is some of these redder states." But Obama will commit to an "array" of ways to help candidates this fall.
"Our approach to the midterms is not 'where can we campaign' – it is 'how can we help,' " the official said.
The president has pledged to attend 18 events for the Democratic National Committee through June, and an additional dozen events for the Democratic Senate, House, and governor campaign committees.
The White House is also coordinating with Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill to shape a legislative agenda for the coming months that could benefit the party this fall.
"While each candidate will tailor their message and issues to their states and districts, a unified message for Democrats is particularly important because of the fundamental divisions within the Republican Party," the official said. "White House aides have been working with the Senate and House on votes that will underscore the opportunity agenda that Democrats are championing."
This story was first posted at 11:22 a.m. and has been updated.>