Can Obama reignite his supporters’ fire?

    Pennsylvania Democrats have a lot riding on the President’s rally Sunday in Germantown.

    President Obama appears at a rally Sunday in Northwest Philadelphia to inspire his followers to elect Democrats to Congress and the Governor’s mansion. Here’s a look at the so-called enthusiasm gap plaguing Democrats in the mid-term election.
    When the Democratic committee of suburban Landsdowne met Monday evening to discuss election plans, chairman Tony Campuzano shared a concern with the party faithful:

    “It just seems the energy isn’t there as much as I’d like it, and I’m hoping it’s gonna pick up in the next couple weeks, because it is you know, a big election. Very big.”

    Campuzano’s team is capable and committed, but there are progressive Democrats who aren’t happy. Meriel Tulante volunteered nights and weekends for Obama two years ago, and hosted an out of state volunteer at her West Philadelphia home for months. She says she’s disappointed in Obama’s performance.

    “He could have enacted a larger stimulus, and with the health care he could have taken a stronger lead in the beginning and achieved all that he wanted including a public option.”

    Tulante will support Democrats this fall, but she isn’t straining every muscle to help, and she isn’t happy to hear Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs scold critics on the left, saying famously that some should be drug tested.

    But the fall-off in Democratic fervor is to some extent to be expected. There’s always less interest in off-year than presidential elections, and Jenkintown Democrat Penny Cutler says the Obama campaign was extraordinary:

    “Two years ago was incredible. We had so many people they would just come in off the street (saying) ‘what can I do?’ We had people taking literature home to fold it, and strangers would be canvassing, and it was quite exciting.”

    The Obama grassroots effort, now called Organizing for America has embarked on a massive voter turnout effort, and it’s managing to find people to show up with their cell phones and help.

    “Hello Kyle, I’m Gretchen Slapinsky, I’m a volunteer with PA vote 2010. I’m calling today because I wanted to let you know that president Obama is coming to Northwest Philadelphia this Sunday…..”

    The phone bank is humming on a Wednesday afternoon in suburban Flourtown. Michael Kolodner, a stay at home dad who’s an Organizing
    For American Volunteer says he hears complaints from liberal Democrats, but says they still know who’s side their on.

    “People aren’t necessarily showing up on their own, but when I ask them to show up, they say, ‘You know I really do need to do that,’ and they come, and that’s how I got these people here today.”

    Democratic leaders say if there is an enthusiasm gap, it’s not because Democrats are asleep. It’s because some Republicans are particularly juiced about their chances this year.

    But the fact is that the Democratic candidates for US Senate and Governor of Pennsylvania have trailed in every poll, and there’s an explanation that has nothing to do with liberal’s disaffection. Independent and moderate Democrats don’t like where the country’s headed, and want a change.

    Bob Morris is a Democratic committeeman who recently canvassed his neighbors in Lansdowne

    “Everybody was sort of jittery, like, what’s going on, what’s happening to the world, what’s happening to our country? Just sort of, free-floating anxiety.”

    Democrats still hold a 1.2 million voter registration edge in Pennsylvania, and to win they have to get as many to the polls as they can.

    That’s especially important for African American voters in Philadelphia. Jerry Mondesire is president of the Philadelphia NAACP and publisher of a weekly paper, the Sunday Sun.

    “People of color understand what’s at stake. They feel somewhat let down, but they see overall a man who clearly wants to make a difference in poor people’s lives.”

    Mondesire says he’s especially concerned that young people who voted for the first time in 2008 come out in November, and Obama’s rally can only help.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.