Obama to NYC: ‘I Don’t Need 80% of the Vote Here’

President Barack Obama shakes after delivering remarks on infrastructure at the Washington Irving Boat Club on May 14, 2014 in Tarrytown, New York.

Photograph by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

President Barack Obama shakes after delivering remarks on infrastructure at the Washington Irving Boat Club on May 14, 2014 in Tarrytown, New York.

President Barack Obama raised money for Senate Democrats yesterday in exceptionally friendly political terrain: New York City.

Obama won 81 percent of the vote in the nation’s most populous city 18 months ago, the best showing by a presidential candidate since New York organized into five boroughs in 1898.

Yet Obama’s super-majority also called attention to one of the Democratic Party’s biggest problems in congressional races: Its voters are too clustered in big metropolitan areas like New York, leading to an inefficient wasting of votes in district-by-district and state-by-state congressional elections.

Obama’s Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, won in a majority of the 435 House districts despite winning five million fewer votes.

Obama called attention to his party’s population distribution problem at yesterday’s fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. That’s the political group leading the Democratic campaign to defend the party’s Senate majority, not an easy task in a year in which Democrats are the incumbent party in seven states that Obama lost in 2012. Democrats control 55 of 100 Senate seats.

“If I could just get about a million excess votes in Brooklyn out to Nebraska, Wyoming, we’d be doing okay,” Obama joked after telling a story about a New York woman who said she loves his Affordable Care Act and asked how she could help him in the 2014 elections.

Nebraska and Wyoming are safely Republican, though Obama probably wouldn’t mind shifting some excess Democrats out of New York to states like Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana and North Carolina, where Democratic incumbents are in close, tough races.

“I don’t need 80 percent of the vote here,” the president said to laughter, according to a transcript released by the White House.

Obama also said Democrats have a “congenital disease” in midterm elections: “our voters don’t show up.”

“That’s what it comes down to. That and population distribution and gerrymandering,” Obama said.

Obama has frequently called attention to what he says is a tendency by Democratic voters to sit out midterm elections. It’s true that fewer voters participate in midterm congressional elections than in presidential elections, and this November’s electorate will be older and less racially and ethnically diverse than the voting pool that helped drive Obama’s 2008 and 2012 wins. Yet the president really only is referring to the 2010 midterm, in which Republicans made a net gain of 63 seats in the House and six in the Senate.

It’s the party out of the White House that almost always gains ground in Congress in midterm elections. In 2006, when Republican President George W. Bush was at the midpoint of his second term, Democrats made big gains and won majorities in the House and Senate.


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