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Robert Gibbs: Democratic voters’ lack of enthusiasm puzzling

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Charles Dharapak/AP

(Read caption) White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs briefs reporters at the White House in Washington, Monday.

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White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says he has no ready answer for why Democratic voters seem less enthusiastic than they were in 2008. But he predicts their enthusiasm will return by the November congressional elections.

Mr. Gibbs’ remarks at a morning meeting with reporters came in response to a question about Democratic voter enthusiasm. Ahead of a Jan. 19 special election in Massachusetts to fill Sen. Edward Kennedy’s seat, a poll by the Public Policy Polling firm found Republicans in the Bay State are considerably more enthusiastic about turning out to vote than Democrats are.

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Who is excited about voting

A memo on the firm’s website says “66 percent of GOP voters say they are 'very excited' about casting their votes, while only 48 percent of Democrats express that sentiment – and that's among the Democrats who are planning to vote in contrast to the many who are apparently not planning to do so at this point."

That relatively tepid response from Massachusetts Democrats echoes findings about nationwide voter intensity in a December George Washington University Battleground Poll. In a survey of registered likely voters, 77 percent of Republicans said they were “extremely likely to vote,” and independent voters were equally enthusiastic. But only 64 percent of Democrats said they were extremely likely to vote in the next election.

What is at stake

Seated at his desk while reporters crowded around, Gibbs said he's unsure why there seems to be this relative lack of motivation.

"There is a lot at stake," he said. "There is a lot at stake in the election in Massachusetts. There is a lot at stake in what is debated every day on Capitol Hill.”

One thing at stake in Massachusetts, which Gibbs did not mention, is the Democrats’ 60-vote majority in the US Senate. If Republican state Sen. Scott Brown defeats state Attorney General Martha Coakley, Democrats’ chances of passing healthcare reform or other major agenda items would be much diminished. Jennifer Duffy, who tracks Senate races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, told Reuters that "the chances are 95 percent that she wins."

Time to recover

Gibbs argued that Democrats nationally have time to recapture their enthusiasm. “Certainly we have got a long way to go before November – 10-1/2 months. I think people will understand what is at stake in 2010, I think people will understand that quite clearly as we get closer to [the election]."