President Barack Obama is heading back on the campaign trail to give a midsummer boost to a Democratic gubernatorial candidate whose fortunes could be a viewed as a referendum on administration policies.
Obama on Thursday was set to head to McLean, Va., to appear at a fundraiser and a campaign rally for R. Creigh Deeds, a state lawmaker and attorney.
Deeds faces a very tough race with former Republican Attorney General Bob McDonnell in one of only two governor's races nationwide this year. McDonnell has been tapped by national Republicans to give the GOP radio address this week.
The once-reliably Republican state favored Obama in 2008, powered by his campaign's strong on-the-ground presence from volunteers and some of his strongest aides. But without Obama's organization, it's not clear the state will remain in Democrats' hands.
Obama's advisers recognize the race could be seen as a referendum on the White House and the Democratic Congress. With polls showing an unhappiness with lawmakers and an unease with Washington spending, McDonnell has been linking Deeds to Obama.
Deeds, a moderate state senator from rural Virginia, refuses in debates or interviews to be tagged as a backer of Obama's health care proposal or rival Democratic plans in Congress. Instead, he's trying to show space between their positions.
But the White House is doing what it can to help Deeds win because a loss could be blamed on the administration. The White House has appealed to the nation's first elected black governor, Virginia's L. Douglas Wilder, to back Deeds. Wilder says he and Deeds would meet this week.
A strong turnout by black voters, who make up about one-fifth of the Virginia electorate, is critical for Democrats running statewide. In 2005, when Wilder refused to endorse Deeds against McDonnell in the race for attorney general, Deeds lost after a six-week recount by 360 votes out of nearly 2 million cast, the closest statewide race ever in Virginia.