President Barack Obama’s efforts to stave off Democratic losses in the Nov. 2 congressional elections brought him today to Delaware, where the party’s chances of holding a Senate seat have risen.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden raised money for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Chris Coons at the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, the state’s largest city. Coons is running for the seat that Biden held before becoming vice president.
“In two weeks you can continue the journey we started in 2008,” Obama told the crowd of Democratic supporters. “I don’t want anybody here taking this for granted. This is a tough political environment right now.”
A recent poll in the state gives Coons, 47, county executive of New Castle County, Delaware’s largest county, a 19-point lead over Republican Christine O’Donnell, 41, a marketing consultant.
The Delaware Senate contest has captured national attention in part because of video clips of comments O’Donnell made in the past on talk shows and other venues. One widely circulated excerpt was from an appearance on comedian Bill Maher’s show “Politically Incorrect,” in which she said he had dabbled in witchcraft while in high school.
The first television commercial she aired after she won her party’s nomination included an assurance to Delaware voters that “I’m not a witch.” That spawned parodies on YouTube and NBC television’s “Saturday Night Live” program.
Lead in Poll
A poll conducted Oct. 8-11 by Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey, showed Coons leading O’Donnell 57 percent to 38 percent among likely voters.
O’Donnell, who was backed by the Tea Party, won last month’s primary over Representative Michael Castle. Castle was favored by party leaders and had been winning elections in Delaware for four decades. He has declined to endorse O’Donnell’s candidacy.
Castle, who got 61 percent of the vote when he was elected to his ninth term in the U.S. House in 2008, was an early favorite in the general election even though Delaware is Biden’s home state and has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1988.
White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, a Delaware native, said Obama was making the campaign stop because the contest is “important” and the political climate this year is volatile.
‘No Stone Unturned’
“We leave no stone unturned in this unpredictable electoral environment,” Pfeiffer said.
Jack Markell, Delaware’s governor and chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, said Obama and Biden can use the race to highlight the choices for voters elsewhere.
“You get a stark choice here in Delaware and similar stark choices around the nation,” Markell said. “It’s an opportunity for them to showcase that stark choice.”
“There’s a great, great deal at stake,” Biden said in his remarks.
Waiting in line to get into the event, Bill Taylor, 39, from Wilmington, said he decided to get involved in the Coons campaign after O’Donnell won the Republican Party nomination.
“I had not paid much attention to the race before then,” Taylor, who was attending the fundraiser with a friend who paid $100 a seat for two tickets.
Boost for Democrat
Joe Calabrese, 67, from Wilmington, another Coons volunteer, said he was “thrilled” when O’Donnell won the Republican primary because it boosted the Democrat’s chances.
Calabrese said he paid $250 for his ticket because he wants “to see Mr. Obama get 100 Senate seats.”
Because Delaware is in the same media market as Philadelphia, the president’s visit also draws attention in the largest metropolitan area of Pennsylvania, where Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Joe Sestak is engaged in a close contest with Republican candidate Pat Toomey.
Obama travels tomorrow to Massachusetts to campaign on behalf of Democratic Governor Deval Patrick and on Oct. 17 to support Democratic candidates in Ohio. Next week he will make a campaign swing through Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada and Minnesota.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report projects Democrats will lose at least 40 seats in the House, costing the president’s party control, and lose 7 to 9 seats in the Senate. Democrats currently have a 57-seat majority in the 100-member Senate, with two independent members also supporting the party.