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Obama exhorts Democrats to learn from Massachusetts defeat

At a meeting Wednesday, President Obama took questions from Democratic senators seen to be vulnerable in the midterm elections. The event gave candidates a chance to vent voter anger – and Obama a forum to respond to it.

By Staff writer / February 3, 2010

President Barack Obama addresses the Senate Democratic Policy Committee Issues Conference on Wednesday at the Newseum in Washington.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP



On the eve of the swearing-in of Scott Brown as the 41st Republican senator, President Obama on Wednesday tried to rally Senate Democrats worried that they might lose their midterm elections – and sometimes got an earful in return.

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In a choreographed but not scripted meeting – the president did not use a TelePrompter – Senate majority leader Harry Reid recognized the most embattled senators in the caucus to ask questions before television cameras. It gave Democrats and the president an opportunity to say to angry swing voters: We get it.

Even before last month's Massachusetts Senate election, Democrats faced the prospect of losing seats in the House and Senate. Historical trends show that the president's party typically loses seats during the first midterm election.

But Senator-elect Brown's win in liberal Massachusetts – for the seat once held by Sen. Edward Kennedy – showed how deep voter disaffection with the current government went as unemployment tipped 10 percent and Washington was seen as focusing elsewhere. The result set off alarm bells among Democratic senators seen as the most vulnerable in 2010 elections.

With his appearance Wednesday, Mr. Obama sought to stem the mounting anxiety within his party. He urged Democrats to turn off cable news and blogs – get outside of “this echo chamber where the topic is constantly politics” – and focus on helping people.

“I would just suggest to this caucus, if anybody’s searching for a lesson from Massachusetts, I promise you the answer is not to do nothing,” he said.

Eight of the nine Democrats who spoke on camera Wednesday are up for reelection in 2010. Several – including Senator Reid of Nevada, now polling in the 30s – are in the fight of their lives.

Arlen Specter

Sen. Arlen Specter (D) of Pennsylvania – polling 9 percentage points behind former GOP Rep. Pat Toomey – was the first on the list of those invited to pose questions. Senator Specter asked whether Obama would back a bid to revise or even revoke treaties that “give China such an unfair trade advantage."

American workers have lost at least 2.3 million jobs from 2001 to 2007 as a result of the trade imbalance with China, which violates international law with subsidies and dumping, he said. “They take our money, and then they lend it back to us, and own, now, a big part of the United States.”

No, the president said, he would not back revoking trade relationships with China but will continue to enforce trade agreements “in a much more serious way.”

“Our future is going to be tied up with our ability to sell products all around the world, and China’s going to be one of our biggest markets," Obama added.

Michael Bennett

Sen. Michael Bennet (D) of Colorado – appointed by an unpopular governor and facing primary challengers – told the president that “this place looks broken to the American people,” especially after the healthcare discussions. “You’ve got here an institution that increasingly is not adapted to the demands of a hugely competitive 21st-century economy."