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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.

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Obama said he took some blame for a healthcare process that looked “painful and messy,” especially at the rush to complete a bill in 2009. Transparency is important, he said. “When we were fighting through all these filibusters and trying to get it done quickly, so that we could pivot and start talking about other issues that were so important to the American people, some of that transparency got lost. I think we paid a price for it.”

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Blanche Lincoln

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) of Arkansas – polling at 33 percent, according to a survey from Public Policy – quoted a small-businessman in Arkansas (“a good Democrat”) who ”fears that there’s no one in your administration that understands what it means to go to work on Monday and have to make a payroll on Friday.”

“He wants results. He wants predictability,” she said.

A centrist, Lincoln also asked Obama if Democrats were willing not only to reach out to Republicans but to “push back on our own party [on] people who want extremes.”

In a preview of a campaign line for centrists, Obama laid out a two-fold strategy.

First: Not to go back to what the Republicans did for the last eight years. “I don’t know why we would expect a different outcome pursuing the exact same policies that got us into this fix in the first place,” he said.

But second: Not to fall back on New Deal era fixes, either.

“Blanche is exactly right: We’ve got to be nonideological about our approach to these things,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure that our party understands that, like it or not, we have to have a financial system that is healthy and functioning, so we can’t be demonizing every bank out there. We’ve got to be the party of business, small business, and large businesses because they produce jobs. We’ve got to be in favor of competition and export and trade.”

Evan Bayh

Sen. Evan Bayh (D) of Indiana, another centrist, pressed Obama on deficits and rising debt and asked: “Why should the Democratic Party be trusted? And are we willing to make some of the tough decisions to actually head this country in a better direction?'

"Well, I’ll tell you why the Democratic Party should be trusted: because the last time this budget was balanced, it was under a Democratic president, who made some very tough decisions,” Obama said to sustained applause.

Until this week, two-term Senator Bayh was a shoo-in for reelection. But reports that former Sen. Dan Coats (R) of Indiana is considering a challenge could make that race suddenly competitive.

“Evan Bayh has $13 million in the bank, but he is getting a real opponent,” says Jennifer Duffy, who tracks Senate races for the Cook Political Report. “Dan Coates has got his work cut out for him, including two years he spent as a lobbyist. But that’s a real race now, and it wasn’t yesterday. This was out of the blue.”

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