White House hits the panic button on fall elections 

Amid new polls showing Democrats losing momentum with voters, the White House is sounding less confident about its chances in November.

The new posture is one-half reality check, one-half calculated strategy -- aimed at waking the party's base from a state of general apathy.

"I think I did what is maybe uncommon in this town," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. "I opened my mouth and stated the obvious."

Gibbs over the weekend publicly acknowledged for the first time that Republicans could win control of the House.

It was not a far-fetched conclusion. A new Gallup poll found 38 percent of Republicans very enthusiastic about the midterm elections, compared to 25 percent of Democrats.

The pollsters also found the parties statistically tied heading into November, and noted that Democrats are unlikely to gain a substantial lead in the meantime.

That means for the White House, hitting the panic button for Democratic voters is now just as important as crafting an appealing message.

The Obama administration has struggled recently to calibrate its appeal -- by sounding confident but also injecting pragmatic notes and warning that Republicans don't have the answers.

"You're going to have a choice between the leadership that we have now and the leadership that that believes that BP should be apologized to, first and foremost, and that the type of calamity wrought by the financial meltdown in the end of 2008 is analogous to the size of an ant," Gibbs said.

President Obama has lost the support of many of the independent voters who helped him win two years ago. Many have told pollsters they now favor Republican candidates.

The Democratic Party is focusing its efforts on getting Obama's 2008 voters back to the polls in November -- a dicey prospect for a midterm election when Obama is not on the ballot.

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found 62 percent of Americans believe the country is moving in the wrong direction, and 57 percent said they disapproved of President Obama's job performance.

That's good news for Republicans, who want to make the election a referendum on the first two years of Obama's presidency. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal pollsters surmised that Republicans could claim both chambers of Congress.

"You look at the polls right now, and I think the rankings of the Democratic Party have softened; the rankings of the Republican Party have not gone up," said Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind. "The public is looking at Washington and saying, 'A pox on all of their houses.' "

Even among Democratic voters, however, 17 percent said they disapprove of Obama's policies, according to the poll.

Key issues are his handling of the economy and more recently, the BP oil spill. An emerging issue is immigration reform, which is always divisive even in a nonelection year.

Over the weekend, administration officials conceded that Guantanamo Bay prison may not close this year, and that hurdles still exist in prosecuting Sept. 11 terrorists -- once hot-button issues for the White House lately engulfed by more recent events.

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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