WASHINGTON – The White House and national Democrats were quick to celebrate Wednesday what they saw as a breakthrough in an otherwise bleak political year, with President Barack Obama’s preferred candidate winning a key primary test in Colorado and Republican voters choosing tea party-backed insurgents over the GOP’s recruited candidates.
“Last night’s elections … were nothing but good news for the Democratic Party,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
Democrats specifically touted the work of Organizing for America, the president’s former campaign organization that now works with the Democratic National Committee to support the president’s agenda and the party’s candidates.
After unsuccessful efforts in early races in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts, the organization now is focusing on turning out so-called “surge voters” this November, people who backed Obama in 2008 but had rarely, if ever voted before.
Tuesday’s results in Colorado, Democratic officials said, show how that approach can help. Data from independent election analysts found that in the Democratic primary between incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet and former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, about one-third of all ballots were cast by voters who never had participated in a primary.
Republican strategists countered by pointing to polling that shows their candidates continue to be competitive with, if not leading Democrats in general election surveys. And in Colorado on Tuesday, turnout was higher among Republicans than Democrats.
“If last night was as good for the Democrats as the White House and party strategists would have you believe, then we should all be left to wonder – what constitutes a bad night?” asked Brian Walsh, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
The true test for the OFA remains in November, however, and even party officials concede that in a volatile electoral climate, their efforts are not a panacea for every embattled Democratic candidate.
But they argued that it could make a difference when a strong campaign can be supplemented by the national operation.
“Some of the doomsday predictions about enthusiasm are overblown,” said Jeremy Bird, deputy national director for OFA.
The White House was eager as well to note Obama’s role in the Colorado race. The president appeared with Bennet for several fundraisers and participated in a tele-town hall meeting just last week.
Democrats also Wednesday highlighted what they described as a “takeover” of the Republican Party by the tea party movement.
In Colorado, both the establishment-backed candidates for governor and Senate lost to conservative insurgents. These and earlier victories by tea party favorites like Rand Paul in Kentucky and Sharron Angle in Nevada, Democrats say, have imperiled Republican chances in the fall general elections.
“There’s been a lot of talk about energy on the right, and that might be true,” DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan said. “(But) what the tea party takeover of the Republican Party has done is produce a slate of deeply flawed candidates.”
The sentiment reflects Democrats’ hope to frame the election as a choice, not a referendum on the president. But in an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday, 60 percent of respondents ranked the Democratic-controlled Congress as one of the worst in history.