President Barack Obama on Friday lent his popularity and cash-raising abilities to two embattled fellow Democrats whose potential losses would deliver embarrassments to the White House.
Obama began a day of politicking with a quick event at Cambridge's Massachusetts Institute of Technology to challenge the nation to lead the global economy in clean energy. But even as he stood in front of the seal of the presidency, Obama didn't forget politics.
He praised Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick's "leadership and vision," saying he has endeavored to make his state "a clean energy leader" — remarks likely to earn Patrick favorable local coverage.
Later, Obama said at a fundraier, "You’ve had a leader who’s been willing to make tough choices in tough times without ever forgetting who he’s working for."
His praise of Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., was just as glowing during a $1 million fundraiser for Dodd's re-election campaign, the state Democratic Party and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
"From the moment I arrived in the United States Senate, Chris Dodd was one of my favorites," Obama said in Stamford, Conn.
In all, it was a $1.6 million day for Obama, who left Washington to help Democrats — and perhaps his own reputation as political king-maker. He leavened his praise of Patrick with a heavier-than-usual dose of reality about the governor's race in a climate hostile to the incumbent Democrat.
Uphill battle for Dodd
Obama acknowledged that he once thought Patrick couldn't win in the first place. Gladly proven wrong, he now says Patrick's "re-election is not a foregone conclusion."
Obama's poll numbers are head and shoulders above Patrick's. A Suffolk University poll last month found only 29 percent of voters responding that Patrick deserved another term.
It was similar reality check with Dodd, who faces an uphill climb next year in Connecticut. The Democratic lawmaker has become a close White House ally in efforts to overhaul financial industry regulations.
Obama, however, noted that many of those financial firm workers live in Connecticut and some are based there. Obama joked that he flew over many of the expansive mansions on the way to Stamford.
"We came very close to a Great Depression," he said, adding that the United States must never again be so close to disaster because of the action of reckless investors.
Obama's efforts to boost Patrick and Dodd in 2010 quests came even as some of his aides looked at Democrats' chances in more immediate races — including the fast-approaching Nov. 3 gubernatorial race in Virginia — with skepticism.
Obama travels Tuesday to that state to campaign on behalf of Democrat Creigh Deeds in a gubernatorial contest that is shaping up to be the GOP's to lose. Deeds is trailing Republican Bob McDonnell in the race for the seat left open by term-limited Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine.
Even as Obama openly campaigns for Deeds, Democratic allies of the White House are trying to insulate the president from fallout from any loss by arguing that Deeds is a flawed candidate who has run a flawed campaign.
They want to avoid having Deeds' race seen as a test of Obama, the party standard-bearer who was elected in an electoral landslide just a year ago and who has campaigned for Deeds.
The White House publicly resists the notion that it's abandoning Deeds, noting that the president is continuing to raise money for him, has allowed his image to be included in advertising for him, and is traveling back to Virginia next week to campaign for him.
But Obama aides are realistic about Deeds' chances in a state that Obama won last November. That hard-fought victory was especially prized since Virginia was reliably Republican in national races before that.
For most of the week, Obama has been pairing official events with political ones — a scheduling tactic that significantly shifts the costs of flying the president to fundraisers from campaigns to taxpayers generally.
Federal Election Commission guidelines say campaigns must reimburse the government for only the equivalent of a first-class fare for each political traveler on each leg of the trip. When there's an official event in the mix, the reimbursement owed is cut to an even smaller amount, based on the percentage of time that the president and political aides spent on political duties versus official ones.
Earlier in the week, Obama campaigned in New Jersey, where Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine also is seeking re-election on Nov. 3. He also raised $3 million for Democrats during appearances in New York. In addition to Virginia, he will campaign next week in Florida.