President Obama campaign found plenty of enthusiasm among students in the 2008 presidential race, but 2010 is another year -- and with seats to fill at a Tuesday rally at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Obama team took the step of sending an e-mail message to supporters in search of an audience.
The president is headed to Madison as part of a series of rallies in swing states leading up to the election. But where he drew a crowd of 17,000 at the University of Wisconsin in 2008 during the presidential race, crowds are expected to be significantly smaller this time around -- so much so that the president's campaign team, Organizing for America, is sending out RSVP requests for Tuesday's rally, featuring musician Ben Harper.
"We've got a lot of work to do between now and November 2nd to keep moving America forward. But this movement has never backed down from a tough fight. I hope you can join me. If you haven't already, please RSVP here. Hope to see you there, President Barack Obama," reads the e-mail distributed Monday by Organizing for America.
According to The Washington Post, the students at University of Wisconsin-Madison are typical of the enthusiasm gap that Democrats recognize is eating away at their chance to keep the majority in Congress.
David Plouffe, a Democratic election adviser and the president's 2008 campaign manager, told the Post said he recognizes 2010 isn't going to mimic 2008
"That's not going to happen," he acknowledged. "We're not dealing with a fantasy scenario here. We're saying with some small improvement, races where you're losing 52 to 48, you can flip it."
But while the administration recognizes Obama won big on the backs of college students in 2008, it has more than a ways to go to make up for the traditionally lazy voting demographic in a year when he's not on the ballot and his policies are looking like liabilities to the water-bearers who carried them.
It may take more than a four-percentage-point "flip" for Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold to turn around this election year. The three-term Democratic senator finds himself in a surprisingly tight race against businessman Ron Johnson, who's up 8 percentage points in a RealClearPolitics average of polls. Several other races are showing similar differences.
Working on shoring up the student vote, the president held a conference call with college students on Monday, in which he promoted lending and tuition assistance programs, talked up programs to help students finish the degree programs they started and touted the health care law's provision that allows unemployed adult children to stay on their parents' health care until age 26.
He also explained why he wanted to return to Madison.
"I want to send a message to young people across the country about how important this election is," Obama said on the call.
Recognizing that in the last 20 months in office, enthusiasm has "started to drain away," the president said he wants to engage students personally.
"What I want to do is just to go speak to young people directly and remind them of what I said during the campaign, which was change is always hard in this country. It doesn't happen overnight," Obama said. "And the point is, though, you can't sit it out. You can't suddenly just check in once every 10 years or so, on an exciting presidential election, and then not pay attention during big midterm elections where we've got a real big choice between Democrats and Republicans."
Earning the cooperation of more than 200 college campuses, the president's rally will be simulcast around the country. But where he is not, his legions may not follow.
Holding their breath to draw any crowds at similar rallies are administration luminaries, including U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who will be at North Carolina Central University; Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, who is hosting an event at University of Maryland College Park; and Labor Department Secretary Hilda Solis, who will be at California State-Los Angeles. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine is appearing at the University of Delaware while Vice President Biden will go to Penn State.