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Manhattan Democrats Pushing Voters to Fight Tea Party Wave

By DNAinfo Staff on October 18, 2010 7:03am  | Updated on October 18, 2010 10:44am

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

UPPER WEST SIDE — Huddled in an apartment on the Upper West Side, Judy Day and more than two dozen Democrats tried to rekindle the magic that sent Barack Obama to the White House in 2008.

Camped out on bridge chairs packed into every room in the house, they worked the phones, calling voters across the state and urging them to vote.

"I think that Democrats have been sort of asleep," said Day, after placing her 45th call in support of incumbent congressman Scott Murphy, whose 20th District seat upstate is in jeopardy, along with half a dozen others.

Day said she hopes they wake up in time for next month's election day.

"They'll realize," she said, cautiously. "There is too much at stake."

For months, pundits have been talking about how Republicans, fueled by Tea Party anger, have stolen the grassroots fire that swept Obama into power in 2008. Democrats have appeared to be sitting this round out. But at phone banking events and other gatherings taking place every day in living rooms across the city, Democrats like Day are trying to prove them wrong.

A poll last week found that just 43 percent of Democrats are "very enthusiastic" about voting in November's elections, versus 57 of Republicans and 74 percent of self-described Tea Party supporters.

"I don’t feel the energy I felt two years ago. And I wish I did," said Roosevelt Island resident Molly Slothower, 23, who spent the weeks before Obama's win going door-to-door.

But the tide appears to be changing.

Just a month ago, when Heny Backer, 86, hosted her first phone banking event at her home through the Democratic National Committee's Organizing for America, four people showed up.

Last week, more than 25 people arrived with cell phones in hand, ready to make calls.

"This is amazing. We were expecting about five people," said Andrea Schneer, 61, a clinical social worker and DNC volunteer, as she looked around the room.

Schneer said she's nervous about the election, but hopes that events like hers will make the difference.

"I hope it’s a quiet revolution that pays off Nov. 2nd," she said.

Political strategist Hank Sheinkopf said that Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino's frequent gaffes and recent anti-gay comments could play a major role in "waking a sleeping giant," and galvanizing Democrats to get in the game.

"Paladino has taken a sleeper of a Governor's race and made it into a crusade," Sheinkopf said.

Melissa DeRosa, the New York State director for Organizing for America, a Democratic advocacy group, agreed.

"That’s definitely been helpful in mobilizing people," she said of Paladino's influence on Democratic voters' behavior.

"I do think that there has been an uptick since Labor Day with people realizing that election is right around the corner," added DeRosa, whose organization was created after Obama's win to try to sustain the enthusiasm that got him elected.

Midterm elections rarely generate the same turnout or excitement as presidential races, DeRosa said. Many voters this year seem motivated more by fear of the opposition than support of their own candidates.

Linda Crawley, a long-time Democratic political activist, said she's been blown away by Republicans' success this year.

"I'm very fearful of what's going to happen this election," said Crawley, 73, who attended her first phone banking event for the midterm last week. "I think now people are getting quite concerned," she said.

Others, meanwhile, are just happy to do anything they can to lend the President a hand.

Upper West Side Democrat Boris Katsnelson, 51, came to the UWS apartment for his first-ever campaign event in hopes of giving Obama, and the Democratic party, a boost.

"I think he does need help," Katsnelson said.