Over the past two weeks, President Obama has visited eight states. He’s hosted seven rallies and endorsed dozens of candidates. The obvious goal is to stave off an Election Day landslide for the GOP that could cripple Obama and his agenda over the next two years—and, in turn, his chances to boast an accomplished résumé and productive term heading toward 2012.
Publicly, the White House has stayed notably Pollyannaish. “Come election night, we'll retain control of both the House and the Senate," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said as recently as last week. The administration’s press team has also published blog entries and repeated tweets, has lent its biggest names to network interviewers, and has tried to reconnect with a frustrated press, desperately trying to drive the narrative that Democrats are still squarely in control of their fate, and that even with some expected losses the election’s aftermath won’t be debilitating.
Behind the West Wing’s doors, however, there's a different story. “Of course we’re at least a little concerned,” a White House official mused to NEWSWEEK late last week. And for a valid reason. Current polling shows the GOP poised to pick up as many as 80 new seats in the House of Representatives (it would need only 39 to win control of the chamber) and up to eight Senate seats.
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Despite the White House’s repeated insistence that it is in control, the president's public schedule suggests an administration in panic mode. Late last week Obama did a campaign blitz through five states—Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, and Minnesota—to endorse candidates and appear at fundraisers. All the states except Nevada supported him in 2008. And this afternoon the president is heading to Rhode Island, another friendly territory, for one more rally. “That’s not a confidence move,” says Stephen Hess, a fellow in governance at the Brookings Institution. “He’s going to states that normally he’d do very well in. He’s going to go cement something that should have been locked in concrete long ago.”
The process of wooing voters might well be over by this point. For now it’s about turnout, and that’s where Democrats see their remaining salvation. A NEWSWEEK Poll late last week showed that while voters favor Democrats and Republicans almost equally (with the Dems up just slightly), Republicans, by about 7 points, appear much more serious and enthusiastic about this election. For a White House used to multitasking, reducing that number over the next week is the most urgent priority. And Obama, says Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton, "is in a fighting mood."