By Reid Wilson - 09/29/09 12:20 AM EDT
House Democrats see the midterm elections as a referendum on President Barack Obama and will insist that he become heavily involved in their efforts to retain a congressional majority.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) told The Hill that Democrats will be in a “much better position” if the administration helps defend the party’s record and that voters have to hear that defense “directly from the president.”
“There’s no doubt that this election will be interpreted in two ways. It will be seen as a referendum on the Congress, but it will also be seen as a midterm report card on the Obama administration,” Van Hollen noted.
The White House has stepped up its involvement in the 2010 elections, particularly in the past two months as polls show Republicans gaining traction in the healthcare debate and as Democratic poll numbers have slipped.
Democrats will rely heavily on Organizing for America, the offshoot of Obama’s presidential campaign that now operates within the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and its vaunted e-mail list that can reach millions of the president’s supporters.
Van Hollen said planning for use of the list and the administration’s role in next year’s contests are ongoing. A White House spokesman deferred to the DNC, where press secretary Hari Sevugan declined to describe specifics.
“Midterm elections are always meaningful for the majority party,” Sevugan said.
Unlike the end of President George W. Bush’s time in office -- when some Republicans were reluctant to be seen with their leader — most Democrats are embracing Obama.
The president hosted a fundraiser for newly-turned-Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) earlier this month. Vice President Joe Biden has held fundraisers for several incumbent members of Congress, and he has been tasked with calling some potential recruits and encouraging them to run for Congress.
Biden held a fundraiser in Delaware last week for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). In June, he persuaded Bethlehem, Pa., Mayor John Callahan (D) to run against Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), promising Callahan support if he made the race. Biden has already raised $1 million directly for members of Congress, according to one Democratic source.
“I think they understand — and we’ve made this clear — that the White House needs to communicate to voters how important this is to President Obama, how important the midterms are to President Obama,” Van Hollen said.
At the fundraiser last week, Biden said that if Republicans succeed in winning big next year, the White House’s agenda could grind to a halt. He said Republicans will seriously target 35 traditionally Republican seats held by Democrats.
“If they take [those seats] back, this is the end of the road for what Barack and I are trying to do. This is their one shot,” Biden said. “If they don’t break the back of our effort in this upcoming election, you’re going to see the things we said we’re for happen.”
Although Republicans pointed to Biden’s comments as evidence they are making inroads, Van Hollen said he is “glad” Biden made his remarks.
“They see themselves as a partner in this effort,” Van Hollen said. “We have a very good working relationship with the White House both in terms of helping our members in tough districts politically, as well as working on candidate recruitment.”
Democrats picked up 21 seats in 2008, many in districts where turnout was up dramatically thanks to the presidential contest. African-Americans and younger voters, in particular, turned out in much higher numbers than usual. That worries some party strategists who question whether the party will lose seats if voters who cast ballots for Obama do not come out next November.
Republicans have their eyes on members like Reps. Tom Perriello (D-Va.), whose district includes the University of Virginia, and Mary Jo Kilroy, who represents Ohio State University, where turnout was dramatically higher; and Reps. Bobby Bright (D-Ala.), Glenn Nye (D-Va.) and Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio), who were all aided by a surge in African-American turnout.
“You always have a drop-off in midterm elections, but what you have to avoid is a drop-off in the proportion of Obama voters to non-Obama voters,” Van Hollen said.
So far, the administration’s political efforts have rarely gone smoothly. Last week, the White House took heat for trying to coax New York Gov. David Paterson (D) out of that race, and efforts to clear Senate primary fields in Kentucky, Ohio and Colorado have fallen short.
However, the White House successfully cleared the Democratic field for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.)
The Denver Post reported this weekend that White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina offered former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D) a post at the U.S. Agency for International Development if he would drop a primary challenge to Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). Romanoff declined.