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Democrats Face Turnout Challenges in Key Districts in 2010

Obama has shown some limited willingness to play in some House and Senate races. Before his election, he recorded automated telephone calls for the Democratic nominee in last year’s special election in Louisiana’s 4th district and appeared in a TV ad for now-Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). More recently, he has played a role in the New York and Pennsylvania Senate races and headlined fundraisers for Senate candidates. He will do a joint fundraiser for the House and Senate campaign committees later this month.

On the other hand, the president has generally tried to stay above the partisan fray, preferring calls for unity and bipartisanship and avoiding heavily partisan rhetoric.

Democratic campaign strategists acknowledge that while they would be happy to have the president fully engage in the midterms, they cannot assume he will be greatly involved. So, they are planning their own efforts to mobilize Democratic voters.

DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) has already sat down with Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine to discuss how the two committees can coordinate their efforts to turn out Democrats next November.

Party insiders say their efforts will include targeting, messaging and building an infrastructure that will help national Democratic groups help Members’ campaigns to turn out key groups.

While strategists already can identify those districts where a drop-off in voting by African-Americans and younger voters could prove fatal to Democratic incumbents, the DCCC plans for much more elaborate targeting to allow the committee to communicate with those voters.

The DCCC also plans on investing resources into developing and refining its messaging to those voters. With the committee regarding “message” as an integral part of its field program, the DCCC is likely to engage in some extensive message testing to find out the best way to mobilize Obama voters who might otherwise sit out the midterm elections.

“For us,” Vogel says, “the question is what kind of message will get those voters to turn out.”

Finally, the DCCC will work with individual Members’ campaigns to build an infrastructure — and a tailored field campaign — in each district.

The DCCC’s recently hired national field director, Marlon Marshall, will play a key role in building organizations in key districts. Marshall, then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) field director during the 2008 Democratic primaries, ran the Obama campaign’s Missouri field operation during the general election.

So far, GOP recruiting in districts that could see a drop in Democratic turnout has been promising. Former Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) is running again, and Steve Stivers, who narrowly lost to Kilroy last time, appears likely to opt for a rematch. Republican candidates against Bright and Barrow appear formidable, at least initially.

The National Republican Congressional Committee will need to win a few of these districts if the party is going to gain seats next year. But their efforts won’t surprise the DCCC, which has already taken concrete steps to minimize any drop in turnout.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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