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Democrats Face Pros and Cons in Nationalizing 2010 Races

David Axelrod has a cure that may be worse than the disease he’s trying to alleviate.

The senior White House adviser admitted that low turnout among base Democratic voters contributed to the party’s gubernatorial losses in Virginia and New Jersey last week. And the White House plans to nationalize the 2010 elections around President Barack Obama in order to regain the 2008 enthusiasm.

But some of the most vulnerable House Democrats represent districts won by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) last year, and those Members may not be all that excited about a national referendum on Obama’s job performance. Furthermore, nationalizing the 2010 midterms could throw fuel on an already inflamed GOP electorate.

“The goal looking forward to 2010 —when we will in fact have a broad national election for Congress — is to motivate those independent voters who voted for us last time but stayed home this time,” Axelrod told Fox News last week.

The White House plans to nationalize the 2010 elections on its own terms by putting the president front and center in order to minimize the party’s losses, Axelrod explained to NBC’s “First Read.” The plan is to use the 2002 elections — when Republicans gained eight House seats and two Senate seats in President George W. Bush’s first midterm elections — as a blueprint.

But there is an underlying assumption that Obama will be at least as popular next November as he is this year. And Democrats appear to want the turnout benefits that a national election may bring without any of the backlash.

“We need to localize, not nationalize,” said one Democratic consultant who has a philosophical difference with Axelrod but declined to go on the record speaking against the White House.

Democrats had tremendous success nationalizing the past two elections by running against Bush and the “culture of corruption.” Now as the party in power, some Democratic strategists believe the party needs to take a different approach by running a series of local elections, framing them as a choice between two candidates, and systematically disqualifying the Republican challengers with their financial advantage.

“I don’t believe if they nationalized Virginia it would have changed anything,” added the Democratic source. Even though Axelrod dismissed last week’s losses as local elections, Republicans are happy to point out that instead of helping state Sen. Creigh Deeds (D) across the finish line in Virginia, the White House cut ties to him when it became apparent he wasn’t going to win. Obama campaigned with incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine (D) in New Jersey until the very end.

Meanwhile, Republicans are ready and waiting for a national fight.

“Super,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Executive Director Rob Jesmer said about Axelrod’s plan. “I can’t possibly imagine nationalizing the election helps [Blanche] Lincoln, [Michael] Bennet, [Paul] Hodes, or [Robin] Carnahan,” Jesmer added, talking about four of the most competitive Senate contests in the country in Arkansas, Colorado, New Hampshire and Missouri.

For example, the Democrats’ best strategy to take over the open Senate seat in Missouri would seem to be making the race a choice between Carnahan, the secretary of state, and former House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R) instead of a referendum on Obama, who lost the state narrowly last November.

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