With his four-day campaign swing out west, President Obama is attempting to build a firewall against potential Democratic losses by playing to the loyal base that helped sweep him to an electoral landslide victory just two years ago.
Today, Obama is holding a rally and fundraiser for Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and he’s making a blunt appeal to a traditionally reliable Democratic constituency in a backyard chat on the economy with women in Seattle. On Friday, he heads to California to try to help Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) stave off a challenge from Republican Carly Fiorina. He’ll also travel to Nevada, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) is in a close race with Tea Party favorite Sharon Angle (R).
“Just like you did in 2008, you can defy the conventional wisdom,” Obama told supporters in Portland, Ore. last night.
The fact that the president was campaigning for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Oregon -- a state that hasn’t elected a Republican governor in 23 years -- shows just how tough a road Democrats face out west on November 2. The razor-close matchup in the Beaver State pits former Gov. John Kitzhaber against Republican Chris Dudley, a former NBA journeyman who has never held political office.
David Axelrod, a senior advisor to the president, disputed the notion that the president’s campaign trip is triage -- an attempt to limit the damage by focusing on Democratic strongholds in an election cycle that most analysts say will likely result in extraordinary losses for Democrats.
“I’m not talking in terms of firewalls,” Axelrod told reporters ahead of the campaign trip. “Those are obviously important races, and we are going to win those races. But one thing I have learned in politics is that when people are spending a vast sum of money, you better be cautious. I don’t take anything for granted.”
The economic difficulties in the region -- particularly California, Nevada and Oregon -- have made it treacherous ground. Unemployment in all three of those states hovers well above the 9.6 percent jobless rate nationwide, and anti-incumbent sentiment remains high.
But the region remains essential for Democrats in Congress and the president. Washington and Oregon have gone Democratic for president since 1988, California since 1992. Nevada has swung back and forth, with Bill Clinton and George W. Bush each carrying the state twice and Barack Obama carrying it in 2008.
Republican pollster Glen Bolger said the president is making a last-ditch attempt to limit losses. Earlier in the campaign, Bolger said, the president’s low approval ratings held him back.
“What he’s doing now is saying: ‘Screw the polls. We’re going to come out swinging,’” Bolger said.
Still, Obama remains relatively popular out west. Boxer has produced an ad with Obama endorsing her, and his ability to raise money, like that of any president, can't be denied -- which is why he will headline a Democratic National Committee fundraiser tonight in California.
George E. Condon Jr. contributed to this report contributed to this article.
This article appears in the October 21, 2010 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.