In a final campaign swing on behalf of the only governor seeking re-election this fall, President Barack Obama on Sunday pitched Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine's bid as a key component for the White House to make good on its political promises.
"He's one of the best partners I have in the White House. We work together," Obama said. "We know our work is far from over."
Obama drew 6,500 people at a rally in Camden and another 11,000 later in Newark, according to White House estimates. He urged supporters to work hard to give Corzine another term in office so he can work with Washington to help repair a brittle economy. A Corzine loss would be seen as a political embarrassment for the White House.
Obama tagged Republican leadership and lax regulations for the economic crisis and dismissed GOP candidate Chris Christie's criticism of Corzine. Their race is seen as a tossup, and a Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll released Sunday found Christie backed by 43 percent of likely voters and Corzine by 42 percent.
"It wasn't a consequence of Obama policies or Corzine policies that we went into this hole," the president said during a raucous campaign stop in Camden. "There seems to be some selective memory going on here."
In Newark, Obama kept the campaign personal: "I know this man. When I was running for the United States Senate, before anybody knew my name, Jon Corzine offered his support."
Corzine, entering the final push of his close re-election bid, wrapped himself in Obama's brand, calling him "our friend, our partner." He took the stage to a Stevie Wonder tune, a staple from the Obama campaign soundtrack. Citing Obama's win a year ago, he said a victory on Tuesday would help him support the White House's agenda.
"I'm here to ask you a simple question: Are you ready to keep it going?" Corzine said. "Today I am standing with President Obama. That tells you everything you need to know."
The race might provide a much-needed win for Obama and his Democrats, who trail in the nation's only other governor's race. Virginia appears to be heading in favor of Republican Bob McDonnell. White House aides are bracing for Democrat Creigh Deeds' loss and already are girding for criticism that Obama didn't do enough to help what they describe as a flawed candidate.
The White House has sought to downplay the races as routine. Still, by the time he returned to the White House Sunday, Obama had attended five events for Corzine's bid amid a schedule that has returned to campaign mode in hopes of steadying Democrats' fortunes. They want to avoid having the Virginia race seen as a test of Obama, who was elected in an electoral landslide just a year ago and has campaigned for Deeds.
Instead, the White House chose New Jersey as the final destination for Obama's political travel this cycle. It borders presidential must-win Pennsylvania — Air Force One landed in Philadelphia to deliver Obama here.
Looking ahead to 2010
Obama's team already is looking ahead at next year's election, describing Tuesday's gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia as a barometer his Republican opponents would cite in 2010. Thirty-seven governorships are up for grabs and more than a third of the Senate is on the ballot with every member of the House. On Wednesday, he heads to Wisconsin, which will elect a governor next year.
Obama aides are realistic about Deeds' seemingly slim chances in a state that Obama won last November. That hard-fought victory was especially prized since Virginia had been reliably Republican in national races.
While most voters in Virginia and New Jersey say their like or dislike of Obama isn't what will drive their decision, Obama's team knows the power of the president's brand. They also point to the economy as having an effect now and will certainly color 2010.
"It's a tough time for New Jersey and it's a tough time for America," he said in Newark. "We know how much has to be done."