President Obama on Saturday sought to assure despondent Democrats he would not abandon his commitment to overhauling health care and would work to counter GOP challenges to their congressional dominance.
At its winter meeting, a defiant Democratic Party worked to project a message of strength even as loyalists acknowledged the prospect of several defeats in November. The party that controls the White House typically loses seats during midterm elections at an average rate of 28 net seats. President Bill Clinton, the last Democratic commander in chief, lost control of Congress in his first term and Democrats privately are predicting it could happen again.
Obama, looking to write his own history, warned fellow Democrats that "we have to acknowledge that change can't come quickly enough." He said political leaders must plot their way forward to November with an understanding of the economic difficulties Americans face.
"I understand their frustration. You understand it as well," Obama said.
A government report on Friday said 9.7 percent of the country was unemployed. Distrust of Washington has grown and spurred an anti-Washington sentiment that sent scores of activists to a "tea party" convention in Nashville on the same day. As witness to the tone, Republican Sen. Scott Brown won a special election to take the seat of the late, liberal Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. Democrats also lost gubernatorial contests in Virginia and New Jersey.
Obama sought to energize his base against what he called "the other party." He urged Democrats to work with their Republican counterparts.
"We can't solve all of our problems alone," Obama said, as the audience sat in silence.
While Republicans have stood in solid opposition to the president's proposed overhaul of health care, Obama insisted he wasn't willing to abandon his top domestic priority that consumed months of his agenda and has produced slim hints of victory.
"Let me be clear: I am not going to walk away from health reform," Obama said, bringing the audience in the hotel ballroom to their feet.
"We can't return to the dereliction of duty," Obama said. "America can't afford to wait, and we can't look backward."
His party, for certain, would prefer not to revisit its ordeals of 2009, which produced some victories but hardly the narrative that would deliver them victories this year.
"I know we've gone through a tough year. But we've gone through tougher," Obama said.
DNC chairman Tim Kaine, the former Democratic governor of Virginia who saw a Republican follow him into office, said they should not be downtrodden.
"The ghost of Harry Truman would kill us if he heard us complaining about having only 59 Democratic senators," Kaine said.
"We've had our ups and downs since the inauguration," Kaine conceded.
He warned, though, that Republicans were unlikely to support Obama's health care agenda.
"We might get one or two," he said.