WASHINGTON — Democrats desperately need other Democrats – to vote.
With midterm elections in just six weeks – and Republicans fired up and ready to go – Democratic leaders are pushing issues that resonate with their constituencies, from trying to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the military to allowing thousands of young illegal immigrants who attend college or join the military to become legal U.S. residents.
Democrats also have expressed outrage over Republican-aligned, big-money shadow groups, a strategy primarily aimed at motivating party faithful. And they're intensifying efforts to reach out to their core backers.
"This is the time that counts," an equally fired-up President Barack Obama told Democratic donors Monday in Philadelphia as he harkened back to the energy in his 2008 campaign. "I want all of you to remind yourselves why you got involved and why you care deeply and not lose heart. But gird yourself for a battle that's worth fighting."
Two days earlier, Obama urged the Congressional Black Caucus to redouble its efforts: "I need everybody here to go back to your neighborhoods, to go back to your workplaces, to go to the churches and go to the barbershops and go to the beauty shops. And tell them we've got more work to do."
His appeal to the bedrock groups of the Democratic Party comes in the homestretch of an election season in which Republicans are poised to gain seats in the House, possibly seizing control, and the Senate. Polls show Democrats far less excited about the Nov. 2 elections than Republicans are, while independent voters tilt heavily toward the GOP. The onus is on Democrats to mobilize their core constituencies – minorities and die-hard Democrats among them – to show up at the polls.
"It's going to be very hard to win if the base doesn't turn out in big numbers," said Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent who votes with Democrats. Given the landscape, he said: "Democrats have to try to change the minds of some independents, and that's going to be hard. So, the main priority of Democrats, to avoid what could be a disastrous election, is to bring out the Democratic voters."
A recent Gallup poll shows that among self-identified members of each party, 47 percent of Republicans say they were very enthusiastic about voting while 28 percent of Democrats say the same. Republicans also now have a 55 percent to 33 percent advantage among independent voters.
Efforts by Obama and his beleaguered Democrats to rallying dispirited foot soldiers have been clear over the past week.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, locked in a close race in his home state of Nevada, dangled before the party immigration legislation that Democratic-leaning Hispanics favor. And, with the White House's support, the Democratic-held Senate forced a vote Tuesday on repealing the law banning gays from serving openly in the military, a priority for gay-rights advocates.
But neither effort went anywhere. Reid never did more than promise to try to get the Senate to act on immigration, and Senate Republicans blocked the "don't ask, don't tell" legislation in a defeat for Democrats and gay rights advocates.
Despite the failure, Democrats, nonetheless, sent a message to their rank and file: We're working for you, now work for us.
Republicans painted Democrats as desperately playing election-year politics.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the committee in charge of electing Senate Republicans, accused Democrats of "a blatant attempt to score last-minute votes just weeks before an election." He added, "These tactics are an insult to millions of Americans."
And Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said, "In Sen. Reid and the Democrats' zeal to get re-elected, this is a cynical ploy to try to galvanize and energize their base."
Reid, in turn, castigated the GOP for blocking the defense legislation on which he had hoped to attach the immigration and gay-rights measures, saying, "Republicans are again playing politics with our national security."
At the White House, Obama and his aides have spent the past week hammering Republicans anew for blocking legislation aimed at limiting the amount of money corporations and unions can spend on campaign advertising.
"It's politics at its worst," chided Obama in his weekly Internet and radio address last Saturday. He said Republicans want to "ride this wave of unchecked influence all the way to victory."
White House aides have been playing off that theme, vociferously objecting to GOP-aligned outside groups with anonymous donors who are spending millions to run negative advertising in Senate races across the country without having to disclose their identities.
From the White House to Capitol Hill, Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her top lieutenants also have been granting interviews to black and Hispanic media as well as other outlets whose listeners and viewers are heavily Democratic. The Democratic National Committee rolled out a new Spanish-language voter information site Wednesday to make it easier for Hispanics to register and head to the polls.
And starting next week, the president will participate in the first of four big-city rallies in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Nevada aimed at once again firing up backers of his 2008 presidential campaign.
The efforts to stoke the Democratic base are a striking turnaround from the last two national elections, when it was Republicans who were depressed and seeking to fire up enough of their core constituents in the campaign's final weeks to fend off Democrats. They didn't succeed; Democrats attracted wide swaths of voters to rise to power in Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008.