Obama puts clout to test in N.J.

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TRENTON, N.J. | President Obama campaigned Sunday across this solidly blue state, trying to save the struggling re-election bid of Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, whose loss in Tuesday’s vote would cast doubts over the president’s ambitious agenda and signal trouble ahead for other Democratic candidates next year.

Mr. Corzine, wildly unpopular in a state with some of the highest taxes in the country and the highest jobless rate it has seen in 30 years, finds himself in a neck-and-neck race with Republican Chris Christie, a former U.S. attorney.

The White House is banking on Mr. Obama’s visit to boost Democratic turnout enough to put Mr. Corzine over the top — avoiding an embarrassing double-dose of defeat for Democrats in Tuesday’s governors contests, as Virginia looks poised to elect Republican Robert F. McDonnell just 12 months after Mr. Obama’s historic win there for president.

Stumping for Mr. Corzine in a concert hall in Camden, N.J., a Democratic stronghold that is about 60 percent black, Mr. Obama turned on the charm to the delight of the boisterous crowd. He urged the roughly 5,500 supporters there to not only get out and vote, but also to prod their friends and relatives to the polls.

“You’re going to need to get cousin Pookie off the couch, and say, ‘Pookie, it’s time to go vote,’ ” Mr. Obama told the supporters at the Susquehanna Bank Center. “You’ve all got a cousin Pookie; you know who I’m talking about.”

It was Mr. Obama’s third Garden State visit for the Corzine campaign.

A Corzine loss would send a frightening message to Capitol Hill Democrats in tough races next year that Mr. Obama’s personal popularity can’t be depended on to deliver votes in the midterm elections. That would make it harder for some Democrats — conservative Blue Dogs in the House and moderates in the Senate — to back the administration’s agenda, including a health care overhaul.

At stops in Camden and Newark, N.J., where about 12,000 supporters rallied, the president tried to link Mr. Corzine to the optimism and promise of change that helped win Mr. Obama the White House last year. The “change” refrain, however, has been co-opted by Mr. Christie’s campaign, which vows to reverse what it says are the high taxes, job losses and poor environmental record of his rival.

“Jon knows these are challenging times,” Mr. Obama said. “This is why he got into public service. He didn’t do it for a paycheck. He did it because he knew we can do better.”

Republicans say the Virginia loss will be more stinging for the White House, breaking the Democrats’ winning streak and throwing a kink in the red-to-blue realignment Mr. Obama said he ushered in last year. Democrats insist the president has little to lose in New Jersey, but would pull off a coup if he delivers a Corzine upset.

Mr. Corzine, who made a vast fortune as a Goldman Sachs executive and spent a total of more than $100 million of his own money on successful runs for the U.S. Senate and governor, has battled back this year after trailing by as much as 15 percentage points.

Mr. Christie led by a one-point margin, 43 percent to 42 percent, in the latest Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey poll. It also showed independent Chris Daggett with 8 percent of the vote after breaking into double digits in previous polls, most of it support siphoned from Mr. Christie.

In Virginia, the outlook is much bleaker for Democrat R. Creigh Deeds, a state senator who is trailing Mr. McDonnell 53 percent to 41 percent, according to a Richmond Times-Dispatch survey conducted late last week.

Mr. Obama has campaigned in both Virginia and New Jersey, putting his prestige and momentum on the line. The White House now appears to have abandoned hope for keeping Virginia’s governor’s office in Democratic hands, raising the stakes for the president in New Jersey.

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