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Washington (NPR)– The Democrats’ performance in the midterm election may give President Obama reason to pause, but centrists in the party say he now has an opportunity to reclaim the post-partisan identity that got lost in his first two years of governing.

Just as Democrats were absorbing their election defeats, they heard of a plan by the leaders of a presidential commission on the deficit. Their proposal involves cuts to many government services — and it has reopened the perennial Democratic debate.

“The question is whether — for the future of the Democratic Party, to win back Congress, to make sure that the president gets elected — do you appeal to the left of the party … and say, ‘Hell, no! We’re not going to touch Social Security,’ or ‘We’re not going to try to cut spending at all’? Or do you try to reach for the center and win an election that way?” says Jim Kessler, the founder of Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank.

The deficit commission’s proposals to cut spending, trim Social Security benefits and raise some taxes came just as Democrats on either end of their ideological spectrum were arguing over who was to blame for last week’s shellacking. But liberals and moderates sounded as if they were talking about two different elections.

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