Philadelphia — With Democrats projected to face huge losses at the polls on Tuesday, President Obama began a four-state swing today targeting areas where Democrats in tight races hope they can hold off Republicans with the help of young and minority voters.
The White House is counting on the two groups that propelled Obama to an electoral landslide in 2008 to come out in force again on Tuesday. The president’s first stop was at the Temple University campus, where he called on volunteers in attendance to knock on 20,000 doors before Election Day.
“The fact of the matter is that we’re in a difficult election,” Obama said. “It’s difficult here in Pennsylvania. It’s difficult across the country. Unless, each and every one of you turnout and get your friends to turnout and get your families to turnout, we can fall short and all the progress we’ve made over the last couple of years can be rolled back.”
Obama’s campaign visit was overshadowed by the White House’s announcement on Friday that intelligence officials had intercepted two packages laden with explosive material that had been mailed to Chicago synagogues from Yemen.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said that Obama was briefed by White House counterterrorism advisor John Brennan on the ongoing investigation earlier this morning. The president also placed a call to Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and British Prime Minister David Cameron to discuss the ongoing investigation. One of the packages was intercepted in the United Kingdom, and Brennan said that Saudi Arabia provided the U.S. key information that helped authorities track the packages.
But during his campaign speech, Obama made no reference to the plot, and stuck closely to his stump speech, staying focused on his call for supporters to get the vote out for Democratic Senate candidate Rep. Joe Sestak and other Democrats.
“In order for Joe Sestak to be successful, you’re going to need to talk to folks everywhere you can and make sure you describe the future you see for the country,” Obama told the young audience members.
Democratic Party officials believe they have a better ground game than the Republicans. DNC volunteers have made more than 72 million phone calls and door knocks on behalf of their candidates in less than six months — roughly twice what Republicans claim, said Jen O’Malley Dillion, the DNC executive director. But they also have made a concerted effort in targeting minorities and young voters — with the president holding 15 conference calls in recent weeks with African-American, Latino, Asian-American and young voter groups.
The Cook Political Report projects that the Democrats could lose 48 to 60 votes in the House and seven to nine seats in the Senate. But Dillon argues that Democrats have narrowed the enthusiasm gap and done a better job targeting young and minority voters.
History doesn't bode well for Obama’s efforts to re-energize young voters. In the past two decades, the proportion of 18-to-29-year-old voters has dropped precipitously for midterm races. Since 1994, young voters, on average, cast 12 percent of the votes in the midterms, compared with 18 percent in presidential years, according to exit polls.
The marquee race in Pennsylvania pits the Democrat, Sestak, against former Rep. Pat Toomey, who are knotted closely in most polls in their race to succeed Sen. Arlen Specter. The White House initially had tried to persuade Sestak to drop his run for office to avoid a bruising primary with Specter, a Republican who switched to the Democratic Party in 2009.
Specter, who was among the high-ranking Pennsylvania Democrats to meet Obama upon his arrival at the Philadelphia International Airport, said that Sestak’s chances on Tuesday are good.
"I think he's made a very strong case, closed the gap and in some of the polls he's ahead,” Specter said. “So it's nip and tuck."
Later in the day, Obama will speak at a Democratic rally in Bridgeport, Conn., and he’ll end his day with a rally on the Midway Plaisance in Chicago, just a short walk from the Obama family home in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. He’ll stump there for Illinois Gov. Patrick Quinn and Alexi Giannoulias, who is trying to win Obama’s old Senate seat.
On Sunday, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will head to Ohio, where they’ll make their closing argument to voters during a rally at Cleveland State University. First Lady Michelle Obama will come to Philadelphia for her own rally on Monday on the University of Pennsylvania campus.