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Democrats, ‘running scared,’ look to motivate donors
In growing numbers, once-confident Democrats now say President Obama could lose the November election.
The hand-wringing reflects real worries among Democrats about Mr. Obama’s ability to beat Republican rival Mitt Romney, who has proved to be a stronger candidate than many expected. But it’s also a political strategy aimed at rallying major donors who may have become complacent.
Interviews with a dozen Democratic strategists and fundraisers across the country show an increased sense of urgency among Obama backers. They follow a difficult two weeks for the president, including a dismal report on the nation’s unemployment picture, a Democratic defeat in the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election and an impressive fundraising month for Mr. Romney and Republicans.
“We’ve all got to get in the same boat and start paddling in the same direction, or we’re going to have some problems,” said Debbie Dingell, a Democratic National Committee member and the wife of Michigan Rep. John Dingell.
“We can’t take this for granted,” said Peter Burling, a DNC member from New Hampshire. “I intend to be running scared from now until November.”
These worries have prompted some second-guessing of an Obama campaign operation once perceived as run by disciplined message specialists. Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg and former Clinton adviser James Carville this week wrote that Mr. Obama’s efforts to convince voters that economic conditions are moving in the right direction aren’t swaying people.
“We will face an impossible head wind in November if we do not move to a new narrative,” the strategists wrote.
Former Democratic Party Chairman Don Fowler faulted the Obama camp for not laying more blame on Republicans for the slow economic recovery.
“The Obama campaign should make it clear whose fundamental fault the economic problems are, and they’ve chosen not to do that,” he said, echoing an argument made by other Democrats. “Not doing that, they forfeit an argument, a strategy, a technique toward making the Republicans bear responsibility for these problems.”
Some Democrats hope the deepening concern among some party faithful could lead to an increase in fundraising.
The mighty Obama and DNC fundraising operation fell behind Mr. Romney and Republicans in May, with the GOP team raising $76 million compared to the $60 million haul for the president and Democrats. And the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action has lagged far behind Republican-leaning outside groups, in part because of what senior strategist Bill Burton said was a sense of complacency among Democratic donors.
“Democrats have to know that the president is up against a well-financed opponent in a tough political environment,” said Mr. Burton, a former White House aide. “If everyone doesn’t join the fight, he could be defeated.”
The Obama campaign itself has also been sounding the alarm.
“If there’s anyone still out there acting like we have this thing in the bag, do me a favor and tell them they’re dead wrong,” Anne Marie Habershaw, the campaign’s chief operating officer, wrote in a blog post last week.
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