In Nevada, Erin Bilbray-Kohn, a Democratic National Committee member, said the Republican contest had boosted interest among Democrats organizing their volunteer base. "They're watching the Republicans and they want to do something and what they can do right now is work their precincts," she said.
Democrats have plenty of bad news on their side. The nation's unemployment rate has consistently topped 8 percent during Obama's presidency, a red line for any incumbent. A Gallup survey showed Obama's approval ratings dropping in North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida, all critical to his re-election. In New Hampshire, which Obama carried in 2008, he had an approval rating of about 38 percent.
Adding to the concerns, the Congressional Budget Office estimated this week that the economy would grow only 2 percent this year. It also predicted an unemployment rate of 8.9 percent on Election Day.
With a long grind ahead among Republicans, Obama will try to show voters that he and Congress aren't completely in campaign mode.
The White House hopes the first result will be a law in which Congress polices itself on insider trading, then a deal to extend a payroll tax cut. All the while, Obama will be issuing executive orders to try to jolt the economy and win over voters. He also will keep up a brisk pace of fundraisers.
"In 2008 we needed to make change — we needed change," said Gaylene Kanoyton, who leads the local Democratic committee in Hampton, Va. "The theme for 2012 is we need to guard the change."
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