Two years after painting the electoral map blue and winning such conservative strongholds as Indiana and Virginia, President Obama has found his campaign travel efforts are confined mostly to the pre-Obama map that kept Democrats contained in the Northeast, Midwest and West Coast.
Of the nine states to which the president is traveling in a final campaign swing, he won them all in 2008 and by at least 10 percentage points in every case but Ohio. Nevada is the only other state Mr. Obama will visit that went for George W. Bush in 2004. The other seven states are Delaware, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington and California.
While the president has made stops below the Mason-Dixon line — campaigning for Senate hopeful Robin Carnahan in Missouri this past summer and hitting the trail several times for Democrats in Florida — his support in key swing states has eroded as anti-government sentiment has swept the region and fueled opposition to his marquee legislative achievements, including the $814 billion stimulus package and the health care overhaul.
“Obama is not unlike previous presidents who in election years go where they can help their party’s candidates and avoid places where they either can’t help or could even hurt fellow partisans,” said Thomas F. Schaller, associate professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “In this cycle, for Obama that means avoiding the South and conservative areas of the non-South.”
While Mr. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on Sunday headlined a pair of fundraisers and a rally in Ohio — a key presidential swing state that he carried with 52 percent of the vote in 2008 — he won’t be making a stop in Indiana, which he likewise carried in 2008, but where Democrats’ fortunes have slipped.
The party is poised to lose the seat that Sen. Evan Bayh, a Democrat, is leaving, and could cede some of the House seats Democrats won during the past two congressional elections as Republican candidates link their opponents to Mr. Obama.
Indeed, Indiana is one of several states that analysts see Mr. Obama as better off avoiding. In West Virginia, an appearance by the president “would probably ensure the defeat of Joe Manchin,” the Democratic governor who is seeking the seat of the late Robert C. Byrd, according to University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato.
It’s a far different situation in Washington, where Mr. Obama is heading Thursday to campaign for Sen. Patty Murray, who is seeking a fourth term in a tight race with Republican Dino Rossi. Mr. Obama is gaining even more popularity in the Pacific Northwest state, which he carried by 18 percentage points in 2008. A SurveyUSA poll shows that his approval ratings jumped 12 percent over past month to 52 percent.
Likewise, 53 percent of Californians support the president, according to a September Field Poll survey. Mr. Obama is making his third trip to the Golden State on Friday, to stump for Sen. Barbara Boxer.
Those figures are in stark contrast to Mr. Obama’s national approval rating, which stands at about 44 percent, according to the RealClearPolitics average.
“We’re going to go where we think it can be helpful and where candidates think it will be helpful,” David Plouffe, Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign manager who is advising Democrats on the midterm elections, told reporters earlier this month.
Political analysts say Democrats have shed both the Republicans who crossed over to vote for Mr. Obama in 2008 and many of the independents who were enamored of his promise to change the way Washington works. Given that, Mr. Obama’s efforts are best aimed at trying to re-energize Democrats, who surged in turnout two years ago but are far less energized about this year’s election.
“The best thing the Democrats can do is try to get their base rallied. They are suffering, their turnout model is awful right now. Their surge babies are asleep,” said former Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, who ran Republicans’ House campaign committee for two cycles last decade. “They’re losing independents in droves, they’re not going to be able to get the independents back. They can get their base back.”
In addition to stumping for individual candidates, Mr. Obama has held a swath of 2008-style political rallies in a bid to turn out young voters and other elements of the Democratic base that helped sweep him into office. Acknowledging that progress has been slower than expected, he has called on them to give him more time to work with a Democrat-led Congress to finish his agenda.
“We’re doing the grinding, sometimes frustrating work of actually delivering change. I know it can be discouraging,” he told the audience at a Sunday rally in Boston, where he warned of the consequences of Republican rule. “The worst thing we could do is go back to a philosophy that nearly destroyed our economy.”