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Rallying the base

Last modified: 8/22/2011 12:00:00 AM
As Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders called on Democrats to insist that President Obama allow no cuts to Social Security or Medicare, John Hancock said, "He should be president."

Hancock, 56, of Concord, was one of about 100 people who heard Sanders speak yesterday afternoon in Canterbury, where the senator attended the annual fundraiser for the Merrimack County Democrats held at the home of Steve Gorin and Cyndy Moniz.

Sanders, an independent who has announced no plans to run for president, told the crowd at the backyard barbecue that the country needs "a progressive agenda to speak to the needs of working families," criticizing Obama for failing to defend Social Security during negotiations on the debt ceiling.

The message resonated with Hancock and other local Democrats, who said yesterday they were disheartened by deals Obama has struck with congressional Republicans and what they see as a lack of advocacy for the platform he pushed in 2008. Nationwide, confidence in Obama has slipped, with the president's approval rating dropping to 39 percent in a recent Gallup poll - the lowest it's been since he took office.

For Hancock, a social worker who had hoped Obama's administration would prosecute more financial fraud cases and take a harder line on torture policies, the president hasn't stood up "for what he supposedly believes in."

While he's not going to vote Republican next November, Hancock said he might leave the presidential portion of his ballot blank.

"He's not gone the direction I wanted him to go," Hancock said.

While Democrats at the barbecue said they were unhappy with the path Obama had taken, they placed less blame on the president, saying he's been attempting to negotiate with uncooperative counterparts in Congress.

Or, as Eddie Albert put it, "Doing the best you can with those idiot Republicans in Washington." Albert, 75, of Keene, said he would support Obama in the next election.

So will Sally Kelly. "We still like Obama," said Kelly, a former state representative from Chichester, who was talking with Gloria Andrews of Chichester and Andrews's daughter Jillian Dubois before Sanders spoke yesterday afternoon.

Dubois, who is 25, said she doesn't blame Obama for compromising. "I think he's had to," she said. "I think he's probably absolutely in pain" from compromises he hasn't liked, she added.

Andrews and Kelly agreed. "I'm glad he took his wife and kids on vacation," Kelly said.

Sanders, however, told Democrats they need to hold Obama accountable.

Following the creation of a bipartisan commission to reach a deal on the debt ceiling, Obama said "everything is on the table," Sanders said.

"Do you know what that means?" Sanders said, his voice booming out of a microphone through the backyard. "You know what that means? Social Security is on the table. Medicare is on the table. Medicaid is on the table.

"I am not happy, nor should you be happy, that President Obama" is willing to negotiate on those programs, Sanders said. He noted that when Obama was running for president on "a relatively progressive platform," he had criticized Republican candidate John McCain for proposing cuts to Social Security.

Sanders argued for a "strong and aggressive jobs program," which he said could be carried out quickly by investing in the country's infrastructure.

He also said the country needs to focus on energy independence and rework its trade policies to promote American-made products.

Obama has announced plans to unveil a jobs program in early September. Rob Werner, a member of the county Democrats, said he hopes Obama will use the issue to draw contrast between himself and Republicans, helping re-energize his base.

"He needs to reconnect back to the middle-class voter," Werner said. "I'm optimistic he stands a very good chance."

Besides Sanders, other speakers at yesterday's fundraiser included former congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter and Laconia businessman Andrew Hosmer, both of whom are running for Rep. Frank Guinta's 1st District congressional seat next November. State Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley also spoke, as did state Sen. Sylvia Larsen and former state senator Maggie Hassan.

Proceeds from the fundraiser will help fund campaigns for local Democrats. The barbecue cost attendees $20 to $25, depending on whether they contributed to the potluck, Werner said. Last year's event raised $7,000, said Eric Tolbert Kilchenstein, chairman of the county Democrats.

(Maddie Hanna can be reached at 369-3321 or mhanna@cmonitor.com.)


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