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The Age (Australia)

Democrats in Desperate Bid to Rally Voters

Simon Mann, Washington

Obama warned on Saturday that if Republicans prevail in next week's congressional elections they could roll back his agenda, as he sought to rally fellow Democrats to the polls in a final campaign push. (REUTERS/Larry Downing)

DEMOCRATS, facing a drubbing in tomorrow's mid-term elections, have urged supporters to get out and vote in a last-ditch effort to save critical seats and avert an electoral nightmare.

But there were conflicting signals about the strength of voter enthusiasm. While greater numbers of registered Democrats than Republicans had already cast their votes, according to early voting reports, Democrat rallies appeared to be struggling to draw crowds.

Even Barack Obama, two years after his euphoric presidential win, was not a big enough drawcard to fill a 13,000-capacity auditorium at Cleveland State University - about 8000 people showed up, a 10th of the number that cheered for him in the city two days out from the 2008 poll.

Grabbing breakfast in a Chicago cafe ahead of his trip to Cleveland, Mr Obama shouted to patrons: ''Everybody, remember to vote!''

But the signs are ominous for Democrats, struggling to convince voters to keep the faith amid a crippled economy and with unemployment stuck above 9 per cent. Voting is not compulsory and, typically, less than 40 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballot in mid-term elections, compared with about 60 per cent in presidential election years.

Pundits say the poor turnout will damage the Democrat cause because those wanting change will be more motivated to get to voting booths.

Also, a survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre revealed that those people choosing not to vote were more likely younger and more liberal, more typically components of the Democrats' demographic.


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Political analysts expect Republicans to easily win the 39 additional seats they need in the 435-seat House of Representatives to retake control, just four years after Democrats took over. With latest opinion polls putting Republican support ahead of that for Democrats by 52 per cent to 42 per cent, most are predicting a Republican wave of between 45 and 60 extra seats.

Of the 100 most closely contested House seats, 91 are held by Democrats. Those Democrats most vulnerable are those who serve in districts that voted for Republican John McCain in the 2008 presidential race, and who supported unpopular big-ticket legislation such as the $US787 billion economic stimulus, the cap and trade bill and healthcare reform.

As a further pointer to the Democrat woes, the Pew survey showed that 61 per cent of people who said they intended to vote this week preferred smaller government that provided fewer services.

A Democrat wipeout of the magnitude being predicted would echo 1994, when Democrats lost 54 seats in the House and eight Senate seats at the half-way point of Bill Clinton's first term as president.

Like Mr Clinton, Mr Obama would face a similarly hostile Congress for the remaining two years of his first term but that reality could work in his favour when seeking re-election because a Republican-controlled Congress could lead to greater bipartisanship.

But in Cleveland, the President warned that Republicans could overturn his key reforms such as healthcare should they win in a landslide.

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