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Will Activist Base Really Sit on Sidelines in 2012?

MINNEAPOLIS — The frustration in the room was palpable.

And for so many of the more than 2,200 liberal activists and bloggers gathered here for Netroots Nation, it was very familiar.

Sure, they will vote for President Barack Obama over any Republican on Nov. 6, 2012. But, they say, they don’t have to be happy about it.

“The frustration is not that things are too slow, it’s that he doesn’t use his brilliance to fight for what he promised on the campaign,” said Martin Berg, who runs WheresOurMoney.org. “He’s just not fighting.”

Berg talked with Roll Call after a panel hosted by Obama campaign activists, who directly asked for boots on the ground to help in 2012.

“We do have a lot of work to do on enthusiasm,” Jeremy Bird, national field director for Obama for America, said to the overflow room of attendees as they groused about Democratic voters’ lack of enthusiasm. “We can’t wait until next year. We’ve got to talk to people now.”

Bird outlined the field program he said would get volunteers and voters engaged early with the Obama campaign in all 50 states. He said that in 2008, even with a “very flawed opponent” and the “wind at our back,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was still able to win 47 percent of the vote.

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz made a similar plea during her brief address. “We’re going to need your help, folks. We can’t do it without you,” the Florida Congresswoman said.

But at panel after panel, activists repeatedly said they aren’t sure to what extent they will get involved in the 2012 election. They said they will keep their wallets closed and will instead look to local races with candidates who stand up for their values.

There were similar gripes in 2008 when Netroots Nation was held in Austin and Obama had just made a move that attendees didn’t like on a warrantless wiretapping bill. Activists said then that Obama should be more liberal, just as they’ve said every year.

But this week in Minneapolis, a labor union organizer from Virginia said union members are “furious” with Obama because of how he’s handled the economy and for his support of trade deals she felt are unfair to U.S. workers.

“There’s no question: Nobody is going to be making individual donations,” the labor organizer told Roll Call.

A recurring complaint from Netroots Nation attendees was Obama’s appointment of General Electric Co. CEO Jeffrey Immelt to lead his jobs council. Others complained that the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, remains open or that Obama didn’t forcefully pursue the DREAM Act immigration measure when he had a super majority in Congress.

When the convention kicked off Thursday, one panel’s title said it all: “What to do when the president is just not that into you.”

White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer served as Obama’s surrogate Friday, fielding tough questions about the administration’s agenda and deflecting accusations that the president doesn’t care about liberals.

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