Philip Maddocks: White House hopes to close enthusiasm gap

Philip Maddocks

During an “inspirational summit” this week, the White House assured Democrats that it will do whatever it takes to close the “enthusiasm gap” with voters by stepping up efforts to bend the cost curve, find the game changers, reform the delivery system for its talking points and better articulate a new, rousing, middle-of-the-road message.

“If that doesn’t inspire the public, then I don’t know what will,” said Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary.

Mr. Gibbs said President Obama has always had two main goals — enthusing the unenthused and making the party’s enthusiasm more efficient. He said this week’s session was further indication that the president is more committed than ever to finding a middle ground that will rev up support for the governing party.

As lunch was served in the Roosevelt Room of the White House during this week’s summit, Mr. Obama assured Democratic members of Congress that he would do anything he could to help drum up enthusiasm for their party’s policies as long as it doesn’t alienate Republican voters.

“We’re talking about comprehensive enthusiasm that will cover every Democrat in every district of the country,” Mr. Obama said. “I never said it would be easy. I think about this when I wake up in the morning and I think about it as I go to sleep at night. You know, the other morning, while I was shaving, Malia, my 11-year-old daughter, popped into the bathroom.  She had one question on her mind. ‘Did you close the enthusiasm gap yet?” she asked.”

“We’re all thinking about it,” the president said.

The Democratic National Committee, under Mr. Obama’s control, is investing $20 million to ramp up enthusiasm for elected Democrats in the House and the Senate. Smaller investments are being made to up the enthusiasm quotient for Democratic governors.

Mr. Gibbs said the party has built an extensive modeling and targeting operation, where an individual score is assigned to every source of voter enthusiasm in a Congressional district, giving the White House enthusiasm strategists the ability to find support (particularly from those first-time voters who backed Mr. Obama) and make sure they cast their ballots with budget-neutral fervor in November.

Mr. Gibbs said Mr. Obama has started sending more enthusiastic e-mails and has recorded passionate phone calls on behalf of some candidates that explain why the Democrats’ vision will make life better for all Americans and how that stirring foresight adheres to generally accepted accounting principles.

“The president can’t just whistle and point and make voters more enthusiastic about Democrats, but he can appeal to their passion with a wonderfully efficient PowerPoint presentation,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director.

At this week’s inspirational summit, Mr. Obama told the gathering that the race to close the enthusiasm gap is not simply about bending the cost curve, or slowing growing Republican popularity. It’s also about preventing thousands of needless defeats of Democrats at the polls in the fall. It’s about making sure that party candidates get the best enthusiasm-enhancing treatment, even when that treatment is not the most inspiring one. It’s about keeping an unexcited bloc of progressive voters from denying most elected Democrats a decent showing at the midterm elections.

Rahm Emanuel, the president’s chief of staff, bristled at the notion that the administration was focused too much on political expediency and not enough on articulating to voters a comprehensive vision for its legislative efforts.

He said winning should be all the inspiration voters need. The White House, he said, was planning to introduce a new user-unfriendly website that will show in no uncertain terms — but in extremely complex and arcane language — that when it come to pushing through major legislation, this White House has proven itself to be winner.

“Our job is to better communicate that to our voters with motivating rhetoric and precise flowcharts,” he said. “We need those voters to see matters with the same enthusiasm that we view them, then we can just let the message take care of itself.”

Philip Maddocks can be reached at