WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina met privately with Senate Democrats on Wednesday to discuss the campaign and how the president's reelection effort will affect other races.
The controversial Mitt Romney video that surfaced this week showing the Republican disparaging 47 percent of the country as government-dependent, self-identified victims was barely mentioned. "Didn't come up." said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) shortly after the meeting ended.
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who is retiring, said "There was a question about it," but not much else. "I don't think anybody knows the polling" on the issue, he said.
Instead, Messina delivered a business-like rundown on the race and an update on how the "field program will help Democrats up and down the ballot."
Messina pointed to specific ways the Obama campaign's grassroots operation would end up assisting Senate Democrats in tight races, according to attendees. As of late August, the campaign had collected 147 percent more voter registration forms than in 2008; it had made 234 percent more phone calls and door knocks; it had held 171 percent more "conversations."
"What impressed me [was] the pace of volunteers, calls, voter registration is dramatically larger than it was four years ago," said Durbin. "A lot of people who think this is not going to be the same effort are wrong."
All those efforts are focused on bolstering Obama's chances against Mitt Romney. But in many cases, Messina noted, Senate campaigns and the presidential ticket can build off one another. In Virginia, for example, former Democratic National Committee Chair Tim Kaine is trailing the president in the polls of African American voters, but leads Obama among independents. Kaine can serve as a validator for Obama with independents, while getting an assist from the president on African Americans.
"The ground game, the field operation there, will turn out the base vote, and those voters will turn out the vote for Kaine," a Democratic source working on Senate campaigns explained.
In the end, the theory that Messina pushed to attendees on Wednesday is that the turnout that results from the Obama campaign's field operations would be a rising tide that lifted all boats.
"I've always said that if we run the kind of grassroots operation that we are in the battleground states, that'll help all Democrats and I think that's what the data shows," Messina told the National Journal about his message.
A slew of polls released this week show Democrats opening leads in several critical Senate races. A Washington Post poll of Virginia voters shows Kaine ahead of Allen 51 percent to 43 percent, while a New York Times/CBS Quinnipiac poll has Kaine leading 51 percent to 44 percent.
That same NYT/CBS/Quinnipaic poll shows Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) tied with former Gov. Tommy Thompson in the Wisconsin Senate race at 47 percent, despite having trailed much of the race. A Marquette Law School poll of the state had her leading, 50 percent to 41 percent.
In Massachusetts, a series of polls have shown consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren leading Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) after having been behind or tied with him earlier. A MassINC/WBUR poll showed Warren edging Brown 47 percent to 42 percent. But a Boston Herald poll released Wednesday night had Brown with a 50 percent to 44 percent lead.
By Wednesday afternoon, even Republican Senators were conceding that the presidential contest had the potential to affect several key Senate races.
"There are several states where the presidential races overlap where I think the impact of the presidential race will impact the Senate races," said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). "Virginia, for example, is one such state. Possibly in the state of Ohio, and I'm sure there are others. But there are other states where it won't make any difference -- Montana, or North Dakota, or Nebraska, for example."
Even with the landscape looking favorable, Messina told attendees Wednesday that it would be wise remain cautious. Fifty days is a long slog in a bitter, expensive election. And with the possibility emerging that outside conservative groups could shift their spending away from the Romney campaign and toward down-ballot races, the polls could very well tighten.
Messina's message was "run the race right till the end," said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.)
"Things look good," said Nelson. "But we don't have any more reason to be optimistic today than we were pessimistic when it all began. So in other words, we just have a lot more to do."
Michael McAuliff contributed reporting.
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