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Obama warns of policy reversals without Democratic surge in polls

Defining the stakes in the midterm campaign, President Obama said Saturday that strides made under his watch are in danger of being reversed unless Democrats surge to the polls on election day.

In a seven-minute speech, Obama told 1,600 campaign volunteers that Democrats need to turn out in large numbers Tuesday to protect policies painfully enacted into law over the last two years.

“It’s difficult here in Pennsylvania; it’s difficult all across the country,” Obama told the crowd at Temple University. “And unless each and every one of you turn out and get your friends to turn out and get your families to turn out, then we can fall short and all the progress we’ve made over the last couple of years can be rolled back.”

Obama is spending the last weekend of the campaign in a four-state blitz meant to boost Democratic turnout. After the event in Philadelphia he was scheduled to appear in Bridgeport, Conn., before closing with a rally in his hometown, Chicago.

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On Sunday, Obama will speak at Cleveland State University with Vice President Joe Biden before heading back to the White House.

Hoping to preserve the Democratic congressional majority, Obama has addressed nearly 200,000 people at various rallies this campaign season. His message has been the same: Republicans caused the economic downturn and have remained a stubborn obstacle in passing legislation meant to revive the economy.

Speaking to volunteers whose role is to knock on doors and phone potential voters, Obama shifted emphasis and delivered a pep talk about the importance of grass-roots campaign work.

“So the key right now is not just to show up here, it’s not just to listen to speeches, it’s to go out there and do the hard work that’s going to be required to bring this home over the last few days,” said the president, standing in front of large maps displaying Philadelphia voting wards.

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He added that “coming to the rally is not the hard part. What I need this weekend is 20,000 doors knocked on by all the volunteers who are here today. Is that something that you think you can do?”

The audience cheered.

Hecklers interrupted Obama at one point, waving signs calling for global AIDS funding. The demonstration led to some pushing and shoving.

Afterward, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter spoke to reporters and said the midterm election results will have repercussions for Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012.

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That message is not one the Democratic Party has been advancing. Aware that Obama’s approval ratings have ebbed, Democrats have tried to avoid making the midterms a referendum on the president. Instead, party officials have sought to frame the election as a choice between two parties with a vastly different prescription for America’s revival.

“People now have figured out that the 2010 election is really about 2012,” Nutter said.

The mayor added that it is important for people to vote for “the president’s allies at a time when Republicans are trying to weaken him…. They will spend all of ’11 attacking him into ’12.”

As Obama campaigned, he also kept tabs on the continuing investigation into a foiled terrorist plot. On Friday he announced that authorities had intercepted two suspicious packages on cargo planes bound for Jewish institutions in Chicago.

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Obama discussed the plot in phone calls Saturday morning with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Saudi King Abdullah. He also got a private briefing from John O. Brennan, his top counter-terrorism aide.

On his way out of Philadelphia, Obama visited a local political landmark -- not the Liberty Bell, the Famous 4th Street Delicatessen. The deli is a favorite of local politicians. The president ordered a corned beef Reuben with potato pancakes and sweet tea. He sat with Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.), who ate a pastrami Reuben.

Pennsylvania epitomizes the Democratic Party’s troubles this campaign season.

Obama won the state in 2008 on the strength of his personal appeal and a huge Democratic voter registration drive. But Republicans have gained ground since.

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While Pennsylvania Democrats outnumber Republicans in the House by 12-7, that majority is in peril.

The Cook Political Report shows that nine seats are at least tilting Republican, compared to seven that favor Democrats. Another three seats are rated tossups.

Democrats are also in danger of losing a Pennsylvania Senate seat.

Two public polls released this week showed Republican candidate Pat Toomey with a lead over Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak ranging from four to seven points.

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The Philadelphia appearance was a bit awkward for Obama. Hoping to preserve the seat for the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Arlen Specter, the White House last year tried to ease Sestak out of the primary race.

Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had asked ex- President Clinton to intervene, holding out the prospect of a federal appointment as a consolation prize. Sestak refused the overture and went on to defeat Specter.

In their speeches Saturday, neither Obama nor Sestak mentioned that the White House had wanted a different Democrat nominee.

pnicholas@tribune.com


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