President Obama made a somber plea before an intimate crowd of some of Hollywood's biggest donors Wednesday night, asking for help energizing disillusioned voters to give Democrats a chance of keeping their Senate majority in the midterm election.
"I'm in trouble at home," the president joked at the Bel-Air home of Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn and his wife, Cindy. "I told Michelle back in 2012 I had run my last campaign. But a couple months ago, I had to let her in on a secret and that is, 'Honey, I've got one more campaign I've got to run.'"
Speaking for about 15 minutes before a group of about 90 people – including Hollywood titans Barbra Streisand, James Brolin and Jeffrey Katzenberg — Obama acknowledged that many voters were dissatisfied with Washington gridlock. That will spell trouble for Democrats in November, he said, because many of their most loyal voters, including young people and minorities, will turn out in lower numbers than they do in presidential years.
"Despite the progress we've made on issues that are important to everybody here, there's still a disquiet around the country. There's an anxiety and a sense of frustration," Obama said. "The challenges out there remain daunting and we have a Washington that's not working."
He argued that a majority of Americans agreed with Democrats on issues like raising the minimum wage, and opposed some of the more austere cuts that Republicans have proposed for the federal budget. But because of government dysfunction, "those who don't believe government can do anything are empowered," he said.
"We get this downward spiral of even more cynicism and more dysfunction, and we have to break out of that cycle. That's what this election is about," Obama said. "A lot of people are already excited for 2016. You were excited for 2008. You got geared up for 2012, and I am grateful. But I need some partners; I've got to have a Democratic Senate."
Polling released this week by the Pew Research Center underscored the challenge facing the president and his party heading into the November midterm election. In a poll conducted for USA Today, 47% of registered voters said they planned to cast their ballot for a Republican candidate or were leaning in that direction. About 43% said they were supporting or leaning toward a Democrat. The poll also showed Republicans held the advantage with voters who tend to turn out for midterm elections.
Republicans need to pick up six Senate seats to take the majority.
At the end of the third quarter, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had outraised the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee with more than $22 million in cash on hand to the NRSC's $15.9 million. But as the two sides battle for control of the Senate, Democrats have been heavily outspent by Republican outside groups.
On an evening when Obama was raising money to help candidates in some of the most competitive races in the country, NRSC spokeswoman Brook Hougesen noted that some of the candidates had distanced themselves from Obama on the campaign trail.
"Democrats like Michelle Nunn, Kay Hagan, Mark Begich and Mark Udall poke President Obama with one hand and collect Obama's liberal political cash and resources with the other; a brazen display of hypocrisy if there ever was one," Hougesen said. "If these Democrats want their actions to match their words, they'll refuse to accept campaign money and resources from President Obama and the DSCC."