[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/02/03/art.obama.demsmeeting.gi.jpg caption="President Obama met Wednesday with Senate Democrats."]Washington (CNN) - Walking into the room, the Senate Democrats issues conference looked at first glance like any other business meeting: Men and women in suits, sitting at long tables covered in black table cloths - each with a bottle of water and a pen and notepad in front of them.
But once the session with President Obama got going, it was clear these were not your average conference-goers. These were a group of politicians who knew the moment, and how to use the live television cameras to seize it.
It was no accident that six out of the eight Democrats who Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called on to ask the president a question are in a tough re-election battle this year. It was even less of an accident that those Democratic Senators used their time live on CNN to show frustrated voters that they're not afraid to stand up to the president.
Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pennsylvania, fighting for his political life in Pennsylvania, kicked the session off with a question about the "trade imbalance" with China and how that hurts union workers. He even asked the president to revoke America's trade agreements with China.
"Arlen, I would not be in favor of revoking the trade relationships that we've established with China," the president responded dryly.
Next up was Sen. Michael Bennett, D-Colorado, battling to keep the seat he was appointed to last year when the president named Ken Salazar his Interior Secretary. Bennett didn't so much ask a question, but plead with the president.
"This place looks broken to the American people," said Bennett. "What are we going to do differently? What are you going to do differently?"
Then, Sen. Blanche Lincoln's pointed remarks got even more personal.
The embattled Democrat from Arkansas rose and told the president of a constituent - a "good Democrat" - who wondered how the president and his top aides can get them out of this economic mess when "there's no one in your administration that understands what it means to go to work on Monday and have to make a payroll on Friday."
And though the president used his remarks to hit Republicans for offering a "fist" when Democrats offer a hand, Lincoln wanted to know if the president was going to stand up to members of his own party who "want extremes."
"Blanche is exactly right- we've got to be non-ideological about our approach to these things," Obama said as part of a lengthy response.
Reid made a point of calling on Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, now battling a possible primary challenge from Harold Ford, Jr. She kept her question focused squarely at folks back home, asking about health care for September 11 responders.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, is also up for re-election. She got a question too, asking Obama what he's going to do to help small businesses.
For a while, it looked like just about the only potentially vulnerable Democrat in the room who didn't get to stand up for the cameras was Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Indiana, who found out in the morning that former Sen. Dan Coats will now run against him.
But alas, the president agreed to stay for a few more questions, and Bayh got the final one.
The deficit hawk used his time to a bit of a speech on fiscal discipline, and finished off by asking: "Why should the Democratic party be trusted? And are we willing to make some of the tough decisions to actually head this county in a better direction?"
"I'll tell you why the Democratic party should be trusted," Obama responded. "Because the last time this budget was balanced, it was under a Democratic President who made some very tough decisions."
If it's more transparency is what voters want, they got it with this event. When the session was over, it was clear that Democrats had given their vulnerable colleagues a chance to show voters that they're trying.
Lincoln even released a statement from her campaign afterwards, telling voters who missed it that she had "urged President Barack Obama to push back on ideological extremes at both ends of the political spectrum."