Barack Obama built a powerful campaign organization and got himself to the White House. Now, as head of the Democratic Party, he's expected to get other Democrats into office, too. But, judging by his one-year track record, he's not getting it done.
The list of White House failures is growing: It hasn't galvanized the legions of 2008 Obama backers in three major statewide losses. It hasn't prevented primary challenges for at least two vulnerable Senate Democrats even though Obama endorsed them. And it hasn't recruited strong candidates for Senate seats once held by Vice President Joe Biden and the president himself.
"I get the sense that it's all about them ... and that if they do get involved, it should be magic. But, in my experience, it hasn't been," said Democratic Rep. Marion Berry of Arkansas.
Based on roughly two dozen interviews with lawmakers, party leaders and political operatives nationwide, it's clear that many Democrats feel Obama hasn't fully embraced his role as party chief. It has them questioning the strength of his political muscle and faulting his advisers for paying too little attention to the fast-approaching 2010 midterm contests.
Some of these Democrats complained on the record. Others asked for anonymity to avoid angering Obama and his team. Altogether, they described an ineffective political operation. They suggested Obama's team is overly focused on his likely 2012 re-election bid. And they blamed the White House for a muddled message about what he's trying and accomplishing as president.
"The political operation is good, but it needs to be better," said Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. He faulted the White House for trouble communicating its accomplishments and said "the biggest chink in the armor" was Obama's inability to turn out his 2008 backers. Added Rendell: "The president has been reluctant to sort of roll up his sleeves and fight for the things we believe in because he's been trying hard for bipartisan results."
"Anytime a president's party loses, the president, because he is the head of the party, has to take some blame and responsibility," said Don Fowler of South Carolina, a former Democratic National Committee chairman.
On the subject of Obama's message, he said: "The multiple focuses they are taking are not doing their political operation any good." (CONTINUES HERE AT AP)