President Barack Obama made a desperate bid to stave off a Republican landslide in Tuesday’s mid-term elections by attempting to invoke the magic of the night he won the White House and imploring voters to “keep on believing”.
Mr Obama returned to Chicago, where 200,000 people in Grant Park cheered his historic victory on a balmy night two years earlier, to tell a crowd of 20,000 at Midway Plaisance Park that they needed to “keep on fighting” despite all the setbacks.
Democrats face the near-certain loss of control of the House of Representatives and a string of defeats in Senate contests in Tuesday’s vote. Even Mr Obama’s old Senate seat in Illinois is under grave threat.
“A lot of you got involved in 2008 because you believed we were at a defining moment in our history.
“Some of the excitement of Inauguration Day, you know, Beyoncé was singing and Bono was up there and everybody was feeling good, I know that good feeling starts slipping away.
“And you talk to your friends who are out of work, you see somebody lose their home, and it gets you discouraged. And then you see all these TV ads and all the talking heads on TV, and everything just feels negative. And maybe some of you, maybe you stop believing.”
Democrats currently hold a 39-seat majority in the 435-member House of Representatives and a 10-seat majority in the 100-member Senate. Polls indicate Democrats will lose more than 50 seats in the House and at least six in the Senate.
Mr Obama was reduced to spending a valuable day on the campaign trail defending Democratic turf in his home state of Illinois, the third stop on a four-state tour before returning to Washington on Sunday night.
Democrats are all but resigned to losing Senate seats in North Dakota, Indiana, Arkansas and Wisconsin while failing to pick up seats in Ohio, New Hampshire, Missouri and Kentucky that once seemed within their grasp.
In addition, Democrats could well lose seats in Nevada, Colorado, Illinois and Pennsylvania. If the Republican wave becomes an electoral tsunami exceeding that of 1994, when the party gained 54 House seats during President Bill Clinton’s tenure, then even Washington state and California could fall.
A weekend CNN poll found that Republicans had a 10-point national lead over Democrats, higher than the seven-point advantage they enjoyed in 1994 when they captured both houses of Congress. Much of the Republican enthusiasm is generated by small-government, anti-tax Tea Party candidates, who are often critical of their own party establishment.
Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska, took the opportunity to taunt President Barack Obama on Fox News on Sunday, saying: “You blew it, President Obama. We gave you two years to improve the economy, The message has been sent to Democrats that they blew it.”
Democratic leaders sought to portray the mid-terms as always delivering a defeat for the party that holds the White House and argued that big losses would not be an indictment of Mr Obama.
“This is a choice, a clear choice, not a referendum,” said Tim Kaine, Democratic National Committee chairman. “They [Republicans] have a political and partisan agenda, which they’ve had from day one. We’re the problem-solvers trying to get this nation going after a lost decade that they created.”
But Mr Obama made clear that he was on the ballot in all but name. “Just like you did in 2008, you can defy the conventional wisdom, the kind that says you can’t overcome cynicism in politics, you can’t overcome the special interests…you can’t elect a skinny guy with a funny name to the US Senate or the presidency.”
By Toby Harnden in Chicago
Published: 6:09PM GMT 31 Oct 2010