President Barack Obama sought to energize California Democrats for elections in less than two weeks that will decide control of Congress, saying the Nov. 2 vote will determine whether the ideas they supported in 2008 are realized.
“In just 11 days you have the chance to set the direction of this state and of this country,” Obama said at a rally at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “Just like you did in 2008, you can defy the conventional wisdom.”
The president is on the third day of a five-state western campaign swing to defend his party’s congressional majorities with stops today in California and Nevada, where Senator Barbara Boxer and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are in tight races.
Today’s rally also aims to help Democratic state Attorney General Jerry Brown, who is running for governor against former EBay Inc. Chief Executive Officer Meg Whitman. The event is the latest in a series of similar gatherings intended to revive some of the enthusiasm for Democrats among the voting groups that helped Obama win the presidency in 2008.
The president is raising money and campaigning in Democratic-leaning states where he is likely to have the biggest impact. Obama took all five states he is visiting this week in the 2008 election with majorities ranging from 54 percent in Minnesota to 61 percent in California.
Yesterday, the president stumped for Senator Patty Murray of Washington. White House officials have said Washington and California are must-wins for Democrats to keep control of the Senate. Polls show Boxer, a three-term senator with a slight lead over Republican Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard Co.
While in Los Angeles, Obama also is taping an interview for the Piolin Show, a top-rated Spanish-language program broadcast in Southern California on radio station KSCA, set to air Oct. 25. California, the most populous U.S. state, is about 32 percent Hispanic, according to the Census Bureau.
Separately, the Democratic National Committee is spending more than $1 million on television and radio advertisements, in both English and Spanish, to encourage Hispanics to vote.
Hispanic support for Democrats has dropped in 2010, according to Gallup poll data. Hispanics favored Democrats over Republicans by 13 percentage points in September, down from 32 percent in July, according to the survey.
Obama will hold four more rallies the final weekend before the election in states he and other top administration officials have visited in recent weeks and where there are competitive Senate, House and gubernatorial races. On Oct. 30, Obama will stop in Philadelphia, Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Chicago and Oct. 31 he will be in Cleveland, Ohio.
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.
“I told you this was going to be hard,” Obama told his audience. “Don’t let anyone tell you our fight hasn’t been worth it.”
With approval ratings higher in California than elsewhere around the country, Obama’s time there this week will provide a significant boost to local candidates including Boxer and Brown, said Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist based in San Francisco who worked on Al Gore’s presidential campaign.
“Given that one night of local news coverage translates into a week of paid media, the president’s presence will allow Brown and Boxer to dominate the campaign dialogue and generate real momentum for the last 10 days,” Lehane said.
In California, 53 percent approve of Obama’s performance in office, according to a Field Research Corp. poll conducted Sept. 14-21. Nationally, a Bloomberg poll showed that fewer than half of likely voters approve of the president’s job performance and likely voters are more apt to say Obama’s policies have harmed rather than helped the economy.
The economic issue is underscored in the states Obama has been visiting. California, Nevada and Oregon have unemployment rates above the national average of 9.6 percent. In Nevada, where Reid is struggling to hold onto his seat, the jobless rate is 14.4 percent, the highest in the U.S., and the home foreclosure rate is five times the national average, according to RealtyTrac Inc. of Irvine, California.