As Midterms Near, Obama Hits The Campaign Trail

President Obama answers a question in Racine, Wis. i i

hide captionPresident Obama answers a question at a town hall-style event on the economy on June 30 at Racine Memorial Hall in Wisconsin.

Charles Dharapak/AP
President Obama answers a question in Racine, Wis.

President Obama answers a question at a town hall-style event on the economy on June 30 at Racine Memorial Hall in Wisconsin.

Charles Dharapak/AP

Here's a sign that the midterm elections are not far away: On Thursday, President Obama will headline fundraisers in two states — Missouri and Nevada. Both are places where Democratic candidates are in tough contests.

And White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer says there's more to come.

"The president will do as previous presidents have, which is campaign across the country for Democrats up and down the ballot. As we get closer to the election, of course he'll do more," Pfeiffer says.

A Different Tone

Back when Obama was running for president in 2008, he was a fierce campaigner. But his opponent never seemed to be just the Republican Party.

"Democrats as well as Republicans will need to cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past," he said when accepting the Democratic nomination — and it was a line he repeated throughout the campaign.

Two years later, that tone has changed.

"The leader of the Republicans in the House said that financial reform was like — and I'm quoting here — 'using a nuclear weapon to target an ant.' That's what he said — he compared the financial crisis to an ant," the president told an audience in Racine, Wis., last week.

The next day in Washington, he said this during a speech on immigration: "Under the pressures of partisanship and election-year politics, many of the 11 Republican senators who voted for reform in the past have now backed away from their previous support."

These may not have been campaign events, but they sure sounded like them. And if Obama's tone sounds more partisan than it did in 2008 — no surprise, Pfeiffer blames Republicans.

"The fact of the matter is is that the Republican leadership decided before the president was even sworn in that what would be best for them in this election is to sit on their hands and essentially root for failure," he says. "It's important that they are called out for that strategy."

The Face Of The Midterms?

Of course, Republicans argue that it is the president who took a partisan approach to governing. They point out that less than half the country approves of the job he's doing. And for that reason, Republicans say they would like nothing more than for Obama to spend lots of time in the campaign spotlight.

"The ideal role for the president to play is to be one of high visibility," says Ken Spain of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Spain believes that if Obama becomes the face of the midterm elections, it will backfire against Democrats. "If you're a Democrat, you're going to likely be saddled with President Obama's record," he says. "The unemployment rate, as we saw on Friday in the latest report, was a stark reminder that the president has underdelivered in his promise to put people back to work."

Voter Turnout And Fundraising

Unlike the Republicans, who want to nationalize the election, Democrats want these midterms to be about local issues.

At the same time, says Jon Vogel of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Democrats need the president's help to boost voter turnout.

"We have a number of districts where you're going to have a drop-off — a significant drop-off — from first-time voters in 2008," he says. "And in order to cobble together a win number in many of these districts, we're going to need a strong engagement from both the president and his organizations."

It's impossible to know whether anyone can get those first-time voters back to the election booth when the Obama name is not on the ticket.

Democratic pollster Geoff Garin says the evidence is not encouraging. "Because the feeling that those voters had was very personal to President Obama; [it was] was not necessarily a partisan feeling. It was really about what he personally represented to them in terms of a different approach to politics, and it's very hard to translate that."

There is one thing Obama can undoubtedly do for Democrats, and that is raise money. One presidential speech at a fundraiser can bring in more than $1 million.

And that's enough to make candidates in Missouri, Nevada or almost anywhere else welcome him with open arms.

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