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Obama rallies Democrats

President tells party to press ahead

WASHINGTON – Attempting to rouse a party shaken by electoral setbacks, President Barack Obama told fellow Democrats on Saturday he would press ahead with his health care proposal and other pieces of his ambitious agenda, rejecting suggestions that a more cautious approach might minimize losses in the upcoming midterm elections.

Obama sought to rally Democratic National Committee members in a speech that was part pep talk and part prescription for what the party must do to overcome problems culminating in the loss of the Massachusetts Senate seat held by the late Democratic icon, Edward M. Kennedy.

Trimming goals and postponing hard choices is the wrong approach, the president said.

In an emotional high-point of his 20-minute address, Obama conceded the public wonders if elected officials can overcome the immense power of lobbyists and special interests and “confront the real problems that touch their lives.”

He said: “So just in case there’s any confusion out there, let me be clear. I am not going to walk away from health insurance reform. I’m not going to walk away from the American people. I’m not going to walk away from this challenge. I’m not going to walk away from any challenge. We’re moving forward.”

Obama’s appearance came at a time when the party’s core membership is demoralized. With the president’s poll numbers dropping, some Democrats are weighing whether to distance themselves from Obama in the run-up to the midterm elections in November.

Roberto Prats, a DNC member from Puerto Rico who attended the conference, said: “The mood is one of shock.” He said members have found it tough to digest the loss of Kennedy’s seat to Republican Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass. Brown was sworn in to the Senate on Thursday, depriving Democrats of a supermajority the president had counted on for passage of his agenda.

In this worrisome environment, Obama tried to rally the party by saying it was no time to abandon the bold agenda charted at the beginning of his administration.

If Democrats are worried about his falling approval rating, Obama offered an answer. He said pollsters are calling Americans who are sour about the economic downturn and in no mood to talk favorably about incumbents – they are worried about home foreclosures, credit card fees and rising health care premiums.

Obama dished out some blame for Republicans, who he said have abdicated their responsibility to govern.

The Republicans, he said, “made a political decision all too often to jump in the back seat, let us do the driving and then critique whether we were taking the right turns. That’s OK. That’s part of what it means to govern.”