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Twin defeats spark Democratic fears - POLITICO.

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Twin defeats spark Democratic fears

By: Jonathan Martin and Ben Smith and Jake Sherman September 14, 2011 04:57 AM EDT

HOWARD BEACH, N.Y. The Democratic Partys rare loss of a congressional seat in its urban heartland Tuesday, accompanied by a blowout defeat in a Nevada special election, marked the latest in a string of demoralizing setbacks that threatened to deepen the partys crisis of confidence and raise concerns about President Barack Obamas political fortunes. In New York, Republican Bob Turner soundly defeated Democrat David Weprin in a House contest that in the view of party leaders, at least featured an anemic urban machine, distracted labor unions, and disloyal voters. In Nevada, a consequential state for the presidents re-election strategy, Democrats suffered a runaway loss rooted in a weak showing in Renos Washoe County, a key bellwether. Even before the polls closed, the recriminations something short of panic, and considerably more than mere grumbling had begun. On a high-level campaign conference call Tuesday afternoon, Democratic donors and strategists commiserated over their disappointment in Obama. A source on the call described the mood as awful. People feel betrayed, disappointed, furious, disgusted, hopeless, said the source. Less expansive but equally telling were the remarks of House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, who in a conversation with reporters Tuesday morning said bluntly that Obama would take some blame for the two special election losses. I think every election reflects on the person in charge, but do I think it is an overall statement on the president alone? No, said Hoyer. Do I think it will be interpreted as being a statement on Obama? Thats probably correct. A senior Hill Democratic aide was more direct in attempting to explain the New York loss: The approval ratings for the guy at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue cratered. A Turner consultant, Steve Goldberg, validated that assessment: It was all Obama not even a thought of anything else. The presidents feisty new jobs plan has probably preempted open revolt in his party though a Bloomberg poll released Wednesday morning found that 51 percent of Americans dont believe it will help lower the unemployment rate. Senior party figures are on board with or are at least resigned to the White Houses leadership. And some Democratic insiders sought to put a better face on their diminished state - before adding that they wanted to see a tougher Obama. Lets face it - it has been a tough summer for Democrats, said Jack Quinn, a top lobbyist and former White House Counsel to President Clinton. But I really do think that people are feeling better. Quinn said, however, that Obama must confront the GOP.

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9/14/2011 6:43 AM

Twin defeats spark Democratic fears - Print View

They didnt get the House and say, We want half a loaf. Theyve said, we want the whole goddamn oven, he argued. Its time for the president to really draw some hard lines here. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), among the most senior House Democrats, sketched out those lines. The Republicans want us to repeal the 20th century, the New Deal, the Fair Deal, to turn us back to the robber barons running the country, and to eviscerate the environmental and other regulations to protect public health and safety, said Waxman. And to cut spending in ways that would be very harmful to people who rely on government. Others welcomed the notion of a new Obama even if message doesnt seem to have yet made its way north to New York or west to Nevada. Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat who represents parts of the Bronx and suburban New York, said the feisty Barack Obama, the one that we knew and loved and voted for in 2008, reappeared last week. I think and I hope that thats going to be the Obama were going to see from now to election time, Engel said Tuesday, before dashing up to New York to help turn out Democratic voters for Weprin. But the partys structural weaknesses were on full display in the stunning New York defeatthe partys first loss of a Brooklyn or Queens congressional seat in a generation. The Queens Democratic Partys decision to nominate Weprin, an Orthodox Jewish member of the state Assembly who lives in another district, was driven by the most blatant ethnic politics, said Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban planning at New York University. It was an old-school play that failed: Turner fought hard for Jewish votes over the issues of Israel and same-sex marriage, and Orthodox leaders were well-represented at his victory party at an Italian restaurant in Howard Beach. Much of New Yorks still-powerful labor movement, meanwhile, sat the race out distracted, demoralized, and with other fish to fry. The labor-backed Working Families Party, a juggernaut in other city races, chose to put its resources Tuesday into a bitter internecine battle with the Brooklyn Democratic organization leaving Weprin to rely on the rusting party machine. It was a nightmare scenario for Democrats that threatens to repeat itself on the national level, as major unions turn away from their traditional level of engagement. AFL-CIO leaders have talked about focusing their spending on state-level races. The giant SEIU has discussed replacing what had been an all-out campaign for Obama in 2008 with a campaign more focused on the issue of jobs. And labor union leaders in Washington watched with frustration as a heavily Democratic, pro-union, blue-collar district slipped away. Obama needs to reconnect with labor, get in the trenches with us again, said a veteran labor official. There is, among my members, a sense of disconnect with him. He needs to signal to us that he is a labor champion, not just supported by labor.

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Twin defeats spark Democratic fears - Print View

And so as they eye Obamas re-election a year away, many Democratic leaders are taking an unexpectedly passive line. Theyre pinning their hopes on the chance that the Republican Party nominates a figure who will, essentially, defeat him or herself. Asked who hed like to see the Republicans nominate, Montana Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer suggested: Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry - those would all be good ones to run against. Ben Smith reported from Howard Beach, N.Y. Jonathan Martin and Jake Sherman reported from Washington, D.C.


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