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The Nation

March 15, 2011

Obama's team seeks new ways to fire up his base

WASHINGTON — Barack Obama rode a wave of voter passion in 2008 fed largely by intense dislike of President George W. Bush and the Iraq war, plus excitement among young and minority voters at the notion of electing the nation's first black president.

Now, as Obama cranks up his re-election campaign, all those factors are absent.

The president has many tools, of course, for inspiring and exciting potential voters. But he faces a different landscape, one in which key supporters are disappointed by concessions he has made to Republicans, and discouraged by huge Democratic losses last fall.

Obama acknowledged the challenge last week in Boston. "Somebody asked me, how do we reinvigorate the population, the voter, after two very tough years?" he told Democratic donors. "How do we recapture that magic that got so many young people involved for the very first time in 2008?"

One answer, the president said, is to persuade hardcore liberals to swallow their anger over political compromises the administration reached with Republicans, even when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress.

Obama's concessions include dropping his proposed public option for health insurance, and extending Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest.

"There's no weakness in us trying to reach out and seeing if we can find common ground," the president said.

Despite his pleas, many Obama supporters clearly are disappointed. When he was inaugurated, 83 percent of Democrats said they expected his presidency to be above average, and nearly half predicted it would be "outstanding," an AP-GfK poll found. Two years later, 68 percent of Democrats rated it above average so far, and just 20 percent called it outstanding.

Last fall's elections were a disaster not only for the hundreds of Democrats voted out of Congress, governorships and state legislatures. They raised questions about Obama, too.

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