Barack Obama’s final midterm rally highlights declining popularity

by editor | 1st November 2010 8:28 am

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Voter disenchantment with US president was reflected by 5,000 empty seats during event at Cleveland’s Wolfstein centre

Ewen MacAskill in Cleveland

Barack Obama speaks at a campaign rally in Cleveland
Barack Obama speaks to supporters in Cleveland during his last rally before the midterm elections. Photograph: J.D. Pooley/Getty Images

Barack Obama sought to rekindle the spirit of the 2008 election today at the final campaign rally of the midterm elections but thousands of empty seats testified that the love affair with the electorate is long over.
Speaking in Cleveland at the end of a four-state whirlwind weekend tour to try to prevent a Democratic political meltdown in tomorrow’sTuesday’s elections, Obama acknowledged the pain recession has created but said life under the Republicans would be a lot worse.
The Republicans would cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires and leave the working class to fend for themselves, was his message.
“You don’t have a job? Tough luck, you’re on your own. You don’t have health care? Too bad, you’re on your own. You’re a young person who can’t afford to go to college? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, you’re on your own,” Obama said.
But his famous rhetorical skills are no longer enough, and the Democrats are facing defeat in elections to Congress and for governorships on a scale political analysts say has not been seen in over 60 years.
Screens at the Wolfstein Centre, Cleveland, showed the Obama logo from the 2008 White House race, the old campaign songs were played and the crowd noisily chanted his slogan ‘Yes, we can’. However, in contrast with the 2008 election, when across the US an Obama rally was a hot ticket and people had to be turned away, he attracted only 8,000 to the 13,000 capacity stadium. When he appeared at a rally in the same city in 2008 two days before the White House election, 80,000 turned out.
The president, with the vice-president Joe Biden by his side, acknowledged nationwide disgruntlement. “There is no doubt that this is a difficult election. And that’s because we’ve gone through an incredibly difficult time as a nation.
“And we’ve made progress. But I know that sometimes, as we’re grinding out this change, and there’s all the negative ads and the pundits on TV and there’s still a lot of unemployment out here, people feel discouraged.”
Obama joked about how two years in the job had turned his hair grey, but the crowd, though thin, was loud and loyal and shouted back that it suited him.
Among their number were Thressa Brown, 59, a teacher, from Akron, Ohio, and Darden Blake,47, also a teacher, from Cleveland, who expressed surprise at the empty seats, although Brown had seen him speak in 2008 and thought he was just as good today.
Blake said the contest in Ohio is extremely close: “We are praying a lot of young voters who came out two years ago [for Obama] will come out again,” she said.
A CNN poll today puts support for the Republicans on 52% to the Democrats 42%, a big enough lead to ensure the Republicans take control of the House of Representatives and cut deep into the Democratic majority in the Senate. Although the election is for congressional seats and governorships, the Republicans have sought to turn it into a referendum on Obama, blaming him for the slow economic recovery.
After the Cleveland rally he planned to fly back to DC to spend with his two daughters and other children invited to the White House for Halloween.With control of at least one chamber, Republicans would be in a position to make life awkward for the remaining two years of this presidential term by holding a series of draining inquiries into White House decisions, trying to reverse his healthcare legislation and blocking plans for legislation on immigration, climate change and other issues.
Much of the disenchantment, according to polls, is down to the economy and a sense that Obama is too cerebral, unable any more to connect with voters.
Such is the level of disenchantment, even among Democrats, that about half say he should not automatically receive the party nomination for a second term in the White House and that he should be challenged, according to an Associated Press-Knowledge Network Poll at the weekend. 47% of Democrats back a challenge.
About 90m people are expected to vote in elections for the House of Representatives, the Senate and governorships. More than 13m of them have taken advantage of early voting.
Obama’s frenzied weekend was matched elsewhere, with Bill Clinton, a Democratic crowd-pleaser again after being vilified during the 2008 campaign as a racist for his opposition to Obama, also in Ohio. Sarah Palin, one of the unofficial leaders of the Tea Party movement, campaigned in West Virginia.
The Republican leader in the House, John Boehner, who was also in Ohio at the weekend, will replace Democrat Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker if the polls prove accurate. “These problems didn’t start under President Obama. But instead of fixing them, his policies have made them worse,” Boehner said.
At stake are all 435 seats in the House, 37 in the 100-member Senate and 37 state governorships.One of the best-known political analysts in the country, Larry Sabato, gave the Republicans 55 or more gains in the House, eight or more in the Senate and eight or nine governorships.

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