President Obama's former campaign manager David Plouffe said on Thursday that he has seen no evidence that the White House's very high-profile fights with the progressive base have depressed voter turnout heading into the 2010 elections.
Speaking to reporters at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, Plouffe insisted that disaffected Democrats were gradually coming home to the party despite the legislative or political grievances they've had with the president. The White House has, on several occasions, scoffed at its liberal critics, dismissing their concerns as the whining musings of the "professional left." In each instance, the prognostication has followed that the slights would cost the party at the polls. But in his travels around the country, Plouffe said that frictions with the base weren't evident.
"I have not [seem a fallout from the tension] in terms of turnout," said Plouffe. "There is plenty of public research about how the Democratic base sees the president in highly, highly supportive [terms]. In the races that I'm looking at the data in, a lot of those people tend to be reliable Democratic voters. They are coming out. So, no. And I think what the focus is, to the extent there are people saying 'Well I didn't like this about health care or this other decision is that this is an important election.'"
Now an adviser for the DNC and White House adviser, Plouffe still sounded a skeptic's note about the prospect of turning out voters with the same intensity as 2008. Saying that he liked the "trajectory" that the party was on, he still noted both the historical and operation hurdles that Democrats had to overcome.
"[W]e are not on the ballot, we are not running the campaign," said Plouffe. "The DNC program is historically large, but compared to what we did in the last campaign, we focused like a laser beam on these voters, okay. People say, well you know you got 20 million first time voters out and changed the electorate. It was the hardest thing we did. It was hard to do for Barack Obama on the precipice of creating history. How hard do you think it is to get these people out to vote in an election in a state or district for a candidate they don't have a relationship with? It's really hard."
The reflection provided a reminder that behind the glamor of Obama's run for office there was a well-oiled, intricate, extremely pricey electoral machine for which Plouffe served as engineer. Tempting as it is would be to think that a flip of the switch was all that was needed, the current landscape still presented real challenges for a micro-targeting political operation. If there were one motivating factor that would fill the void in 2010, Plouffe said, it would be an eccentric field of Republican candidates that had left Democratic voters (including those with short voting histories) frightened.
"I figured these [candidates] would be unique situations to those states," said Plouffe. "Not un-important obviously, if it allows us to win the Nevada Senate race that's important. I didn't expect it would have a national import."
"Largely because of Christine O'Donnell and the increased focus you all have put on these candidates it has had an effect. It is one of the reasons Democrats are saying they are more likely to vote. So I think it is going to have an effect on 2010. Obviously the Delaware Senate race and the Nevada Senate race are in stronger positions for us now simply because they nominated people out of the mainstream.
"It has a collateral impact... in that some Democrats are saying this is the reason for me to vote because I don't want to put these people in charge. And I will just say this about the future: this is the absolute tip of the iceberg. If you were a moderate Republican thinking about running for office in 2011 and 2012 you would need to have your head examined. They are not going to do it."