WASHINGTON — Democrats have a problem and everyone knows it. President Obama calls it a ‘‘congenital disease.’’ If they can’t control it, Obama could spend the final years of his presidency battling not only a Republican House but also a Republican Senate.
Democrats don’t vote in midterm elections. That’s an exaggeration, of course, but the core of the Democratic coalition is made up of many people who turn out to vote only in presidential elections. The Republican coalition — older and whiter — suffers less from midterm falloff.
So much has been made of the building blocks the president assembled to win his two elections — the outpouring of voters younger than 30; the long lines at precincts in African- American communities; the support he engendered among the rising Hispanic population; the growing support for him and Democrats generally among unmarried women.
But a Republican victory in a special congressional election in a winnable district in Florida last month has put many Democrats, including the president, on edge. ‘‘Our voters . . . get excited about general elections,’’ Obama said at a recent fund-raiser in Houston. ‘‘They don’t get as excited about midterm elections.’’
Obama hopes to stir his base to action and in recent weeks has been trying to push all the buttons. He invoked the slaying of civil rights workers in the 1960s to implore a largely African-American audience in New York to take advantage of their right to vote.
At the White House a few days before that, he pushed the issue of pay equity for women. Around the country, he and other Democrats have seized on raising the minimum wage to draw a contrast with Republicans. He chastised House Republicans for not moving on immigration overhaul.
But the president, hobbled by weak approval ratings, may be a drag on Democrats in some of the places his party will be fighting hardest this fall. And Republicans appear more motivated, spurred by their opposition to the Affordable Care Act.
Democrats are banking on the belief that they can better identify potential supporters, motivate them, and get them to the polls — in essence, reshape the midterm electorate to make it look more like the electorate in a presidential year.
To try to do so, they will for the first time fully employ the sophisticated tools and techniques used in Obama’s presidential campaigns to aid Senate and some House candidates.
Republicans need to pick up a net of six seats to take control of the Senate. For Democrats, the most endangered seats are in Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia. Incumbents Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Mark Pryor in Arkansas, and Mark Begich in Alaska are in difficult campaigns, most in states Obama twice lost badly.
And Republicans see opportunities in Michigan, where Democratic Senator Carl Levin is retiring; in New Hampshire, now that Scott Brown, the former Massachusetts senator, has decided to take on Senator Jeanne Shaheen; in Colorado, where Representative Cory Gardner’s challenge to Democratic Senator Mark Udall has changed the race; and possibly in Iowa, where Representative Bruce Braley has stumbled recently.
Democrats see opportunities to win two Republican seats. One is in Kentucky, where Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has a fight on his hands. The other is in the race for an open seat in Georgia.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is assembling what executive director Guy Cecil said will be a $60 million effort in targeted races.