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Disgruntled Democrats in the Bay State

Mark Mardell | 08:00 UK time, Monday, 25 October 2010

"I am one of the disappointed early adopters. I bought into the whole promise, because we wanted it so badly."


Obama on the campaign trail in Massachusetts

The thin-faced middle-aged man dressed in bohemian black is exactly the sort of person the president will be aiming at when he goes on the Jon Stewart show mid-week, and in his weekend blitz to get out the Democratic vote.

I am talking to him in the Cafe on the Common in Walltham, Massachusetts with the director of political science at Boston's Suffolk university, Dave Paleologos. The pollster has brought me here because it is a very typical city in Massachusetts, with a good mixture of young and old, ethnic groups and classes.
It was this state where warning bells were first sounded for the president with the victory in January of Republican Scott Brown in a Senate race.

At the time, many pointed to the enthusiasm of the Tea Party as one reason for his victory. But perhaps just as important, then and now, is Democratic disgruntlement.

I am on the hunt for swing voters who went for Obama but are now going to vote Republican. But part of the fun of being a reporter is that what you find is not always what you are looking for. There are strong Republicans. There are people who think Obama is doing a good job. But most striking are liberal Democrats who are unhappy.

As people in the cafe munch on their seven-grain rolls and sip borscht, the soup of the day, the man in black continues:

"Others with a clear vision, Noam Chomsky, for example, knew better. He knew Obama was in the pocket of the financial industry. He knew that we shouldn't get our hopes up. But things were so bad for eight years that it was impossible not to hope for hope."

I ask him if he will vote in the mid-terms.

"Possibly. Probably not, it just encourages them."

A busy mum trying to keep her toddler under control tells me about the president.

"He's disappointing in my view. We had higher hopes with his slogan of change. I did vote for him but it seems it's Clinton take two. He had a huge mandate and he should have just really driven home the Democratic principles. He's really in the back pocket of Wall Street, it's more of the same, more of corporate America"

A short stroll up Main Street brings me to a grittier, run-down, part of town. In Bullets bar and grill working men who don't seem to be working are talking loudly over shots and beer. None of their drinks seem to be their first that afternoon. A man with longish grey hair and a moustache is keen to share his discontent with how the president is performing.

"Not as good as he could be doing that's for sure."

Did you vote for him?

"Yes. We should be out of Iraq and winding down Afghanistan and we should be taking care of our economy. You know this country is going down the tubes."

I ask him if he will vote in the mid-terms.

"I think Scott Brown's good, I didn't vote for him, but I want to keep him, I am open to Republicans."

Scott Brown is not on the ballot paper this time round, but is scarcely good news for the Democrats. Another man chips in about the president.

"I think he's a failure. We really expected something from this man, he's got a full Democratic House ...what has he done?"

I ask if he voted for Obama.

"I voted Democratic, I always have, but you know what I would like to see a strong independent party because both of these parties suck."

Dave Paleologos says this is what the Democrats are up against: "You need a reason to get out and vote, and you've got a lot of dogs across the country wounded by the economy and their inability to pay their bills every day and when you try to help a wounded dog you get bit. And the Democrats are trying to motivate people who are hurting and its very difficult to do."

Massachusetts is still an overwhelmingly liberal, Democratic state. It certainly doesn't seem gripped by Tea Party fever. But from Bullets bar to the Cafe on the Common it is those who stay firmly sat on their bar stools and trendy metal chairs who may do the president's party, and its agenda, the most harm.

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