President Barack Obama heads west today aiming to defend his party’s congressional majorities with campaign stops in Democratic-leaning states where he’s likely to have the biggest impact less than two weeks before the election.
The president will raise money and headline events in five states over four days with a focus on three incumbent Democrats in close races: Senators Barbara Boxer in California, Patty Murray in Washington and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada. He’ll also campaign for Democratic gubernatorial candidates John Kitzhaber in Oregon and Mark Dayton in Minnesota and raise money for House candidates.
“These are the kinds of places where the president can have some appeal,” said Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report in Washington. “There are Democrats who can be, and need to be, turned out and the president may have some ability to do that.”
Republicans need a net gain of 39 seats to get a majority in the 435-member House of Representatives. Rothenberg forecasts Republicans will gain 40 to 50 seats, with 60 possible. In the Senate, where Republicans now hold 41 of 100 seats, Rothenberg expects Republicans to pick up six to eight seats, not enough to claim a majority.
“Washington and California will likely determine control of the Senate,” Dan Pfeiffer, White House communications director, said. “We need to win both of those.”
In California, where Boxer is facing Republican Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard Co., Rothenberg rates the race as leaning Democratic. Murray’s race against Republican Dino Rossi, a businessman and former state senator, tilts Democratic, according to Rothenberg. Reid’s race against Sharon Angle, who is backed by the Tea Party, is a toss-up, he said.
Obama and the Democrats are confronted with voter anger over the state of the U.S. economy. An Oct. 7-10 Bloomberg National Poll shows that almost two-thirds of voters believe the country is on the wrong track and unemployment is the top concern for about half the electorate. The deficit, which was almost $1.3 trillion for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, ranks as the second most pressing issue, cited by 27 percent.
The economic issue is underscored in the states Obama is visiting. California, Nevada and Oregon have unemployment rates above the national average of 9.6 percent. Nevada’s 14.4 percent jobless rate is the highest in the U.S., and the home foreclosure rate is five times the national average, according to RealtyTrac Inc. of Irvine, California.
Obama took all five states in the 2008 election with winning percentages ranging from 54 percent in Minnesota to 61 percent in California, and he’s been attempting to revive some of that enthusiasm for the congressional elections.
“Our mission in the last two weeks is to get people energized and understanding that there are real stakes in this election and that it’s important to participate,” David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Obama, said.
While polls show Republican voters have been more engaged in the political process this year than Democrats, White House officials point to evidence indicating their supporters are turning attention to the Nov. 2 congressional election.
An Oct. 14 Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll showed that 64 percent of Democrats are either extremely or very interested in the November elections, up from 60 percent Sept. 28-29. Among Republicans, 71 percent said they were extremely or very interested in the forthcoming elections -- down from 78 percent last month.
Obama has scheduled two rallies, one in Los Angeles and another in Las Vegas, aimed at generating support for Democrats nationally and at the local level.
He’ll also hold a backyard discussion in Seattle on Oct. 21 with Murray focused on economic issues specific to women. The trip ends in Minneapolis with events for Dayton and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Obama has another fundraiser scheduled for Oct. 25 in Rhode Island. His aides are still deciding which states and races to target in the final days before the midterm elections. Obama will travel again Oct. 30 and 31, the weekend before election.
“We’re going where the races are and where we can be most helpful in making sure Democrats keep control of both houses,” Pfeiffer said. “Obviously we’ve got a lot of work to do in the last two weeks, but we are making progress.”
This trip includes raising money to help the party pay for advertising and boosting Democratic turnout.
While Democratic fundraising committees for the House and Senate entered the final full month of the 2010 campaign with more money than their Republican counterparts, Republican-leaning outside groups such as Karl Rove’s American Crossroads are more than making up the difference. The independent organizations, a frequent target of Obama’s criticism, spent about $73 million from Sept. 1 to Oct. 12, four times as much as Democratic-leaning organizations, Federal Election Commission records show.
Since March 2009 Obama has raised roughly $45 million for Democratic candidates and party organizations and about $11.25 million since Labor Day, according to an administration official.
“The president is, of course, fundraiser-in-chief no matter what his approval ratings are,” Rothenberg said.