With control of Congress at stake on Nov. 2, President Barack Obama appealed to voters Friday to stick with Democrats although times are tough and the electricity of his presidential campaign can seem like a faded memory.
"We've just begun. We're just in the first quarter. I can't have you tired now," Obama said at a rally for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on the third day of a four-day campaign swing aimed at protecting Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. "I can't have you tired when we're just getting started."
Obama had delivered an identical message just hours earlier in Los Angeles, where he campaigned for California Sen. Barbara Boxer.
Trying mightily to reknit the coalition that sent him to the White House, Obama was reaching out to Latino voters, college students, women and others as he sought to boost the candidacies of key congressional allies whose fate on Election Day will help determine what happens to the rest of his agenda.
The president has been logging miles since Wednesday, campaigning in Oregon, Washington state, California and Nevada on a five-day swing that ends Saturday in Minneapolis.
Boxer is in a tight race with former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina. Reid is in a tossup against tea party-backed Sharron Angle and theirs is the nation's most closely watched Senate matchup.
Energizing at every turn
Obama was trying to energize Democratic supporters at big rallies at every stop along the way, and attending private fundraisers to help the candidates and the Democratic Party. While in Los Angeles, he taped an appearance on a popular Spanish-language radio program, the Piolin show.
California also elects a governor on Nov. 2 and Republicans privately expressed concern about the fate of their candidate, Meg Whitman. They said private polls showed her falling behind former Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in recent days, despite spending about $142 million of her own money on the campaign. These officials spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to disclose confidential survey data.
Everywhere he went, Obama asked voters to keep believing in the promise of the change he says is happening in Washington, although he acknowledged that it's been a tough slog and supporters are becoming disillusioned.
"I know sometimes over the last two years as we've been grinding out change, doing battle, dealing with filibusters, dealing with obstruction, dealing with the 'no-you-can't' crowd, I know sometimes you might have gotten discouraged," Obama said at the nighttime rally for Reid. The rally's Democratic organizers estimated the crowd at 9,000.
"The work of bringing about actual change is so hard," Obama said. "I'm here to tell you Nevada don't let anybody tell you that what you've done didn't matter."
The crowd in Las Vegas was a fraction of the audience that flooded a sunny quad at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles to hear Obama. USC officials estimated that 32,500 people were there and that 5,000 other people watched on television from an overflow area.
At USC, Obama appeared with Boxer and Brown and, because it was Los Angeles, Hollywood added a dash of celebrity. Jamie Foxx warmed up the crowd and Stevie Wonder sang at a separate Boxer fundraiser.
The task of motivating voters is infinitely harder this time around.
Apart from the country's economic woes and the fact that Obama is no longer the fresh face he once was, turnout is always lower in non-presidential election years, and the party in control of the White House traditionally loses seats in Congress in midterm elections.
As Obama campaigned on the West Coast, Democratic and Republican party leaders in Washington privately pored over the latest polling data to determine where to spend their limited resources on TV ads and get-out-the-vote efforts in the final 10 days of the campaign.
Democrats were focusing on the most competitive states and congressional districts in the hope that a superior turnout operation will help them win enough races to keep control of Congress, even if only by a slim margin.
Republicans were zeroing in on states where they've seen their leads shrink in recent days — like the Pennsylvania Senate contest — as voters started paying close attention as Election Day nears.
Attention was focused heavily on the most competitive Senate races — Nevada, California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Washington, Colorado, West Virginia — and roughly two dozen House races in a battlefield that's rapidly expanded to 75 or more seats in play. Republicans would need to win 40 seats to take the House and 10 to take the Senate.