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Netroots urged to stem the tide

From msnbc.com's Tom Curry: 

Las Vegas -- Democratic strategists meeting with the left-of-center activists at the annual Netroots Nation convention in Las Vegas are worried that progressives – some of them disappointed with President Obama’s performance so far -- might not turn in the kind of hardworking performance they showed in 2008 for Democratic candidates this time around.

Netroots activists must work “so that people don’t give in to despair, that they don’t give up on politics, that they keep fighting and keep active,” said Mike Lux, a veteran Democratic organizer and consultant.

“There’s clearly an enthusiasm gap. That I don’t think anyone can really deny. It’s anywhere from 10 to 15 points between Republicans and Democrats in the national polls. If we do nothing else in the next few months but reduce that enthusiasm gap,” then Democrats can hope to do well in November, said Democratic consultant Chris Kofinis, who is working with the Democratic Governors Association. 

 “My message to people who turned out for the first time in 2008 is that this is a long-run, serious business and you’ve got to get out” to work on campaigns and vote, said Harold Ickes, the Democratic strategist who ran Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.

In gubernatorial elections last year in New Jersey and Virginia, and in the special Senate election in Massachusetts last January which Republican Scott Brown won, “the falloff has been dramatic” among loyal Democratic voter groups: young people, blacks, Latinos, and unmarried people. A “very scary” decline in young voters in the New Jersey race, Ickes added.

The consequences of a similar falloff in November could be huge. Voters in 37 states will elect governors this November and 6,118 state legislators will be chosen in 46 states.

In most states, it will be the governors and state legislators elected in November who will draw the lines of congressional districts across the nation.

Redistricting follows the decennial Census – and Republican-controlled legislatures and Republican governors drawing the maps would tilt the advantage towards a GOP House.

Nathan Daschle, the executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, warned the Netroots activists that Republican leaders have said “that if they do their job in electing governors this year, they will gerrymander 30 House seats.”

And Daschle noted GOP claims that “it’s going to be impossible for President Obama to be re-elected in 2012 if they win some of these key governors races.” That’s because in states such as Ohio and Florida a governor’s political apparatus and patronage power gives him the ability to mobilize voters in 2012.

Daschle noted that two of the GOP’s smartest strategists, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, are piloting the Republican campaigns in gubernatorial and state legislative races. “They understand the power to make a decade-long change to our political environment at the state level.”

Michael Sargeant, the executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, who spoke at a Netroots Nation panel discussion Friday, pointed to Pennsylvania, Texas, Michigan, and Ohio as battleground states for state legislative races.

In each of them there is a governor’s election this November, as well as legislative races. The Cook Political Report rates Pennsylvania, Texas, and Ohio as toss-up governors races; it rates the Michigan governor’s race as leaning Republican.

There’s some tension between Netroots activists and the Democratic Party strategists in Washington D.C. who run the redistricting effort.

One Netroots Nation attendee asked Sargeant if he could give activists a list of the ten seats in each state that could tip the balance in each legislature from Democrat to Republican.

“State bloggers and people interested in financing these campaigns could then have those targeted seats ready to go -- especially when we have an infrastructure on line that can really rally people at a moment’s notice,” he told Sargeant.

But Sargeant was unwilling to reveal the entire DLCC target list.

“There’s so little news coverage of a lot of these campaigns,” he noted, and in some cases he prefers to keep it that way. He doesn’t want publicity for sleeper races where Democrats have a chance to pick up a seat.

“We’re going to spend, with your help, a lot of money and use a lot of resources to win these races – but we don’t want the Republicans to actually notice,” he said.  “We have to work through with our leaders with what they’re comfortable actually talking about,” he told the Netroots Nation questioner.

 “Both sides – Democratic and Republican – don’t want the other side to know all their strategies,” Sargeant told me later. “I may have a target list for what races I think are important in Indiana, for example; I imagine my Republican counterpart would probably have a different list. Sometimes it’s very public which races overlap, and sometimes maybe there are a couple of sleeper races.”