BOSTON — Less than two weeks before a special election that will provide an early test of the strength of his 2014 coattails, President Obama on Wednesday hit the stump for Rep. Edward J. Markey, the Democratic candidate hoping to win the Senate seat vacated by Secretary of State John F. Kerry.
The president told supporters that Massachusetts has a history of sending “smart, tough leaders” to the Senate “like my friend Ted Kennedy.”
“The history of senators from Massachusetts is that they fight for people,” said Mr. Obama, praising the candidate’s support for gun control. “They’re not scared of the special interests. And nobody is better suited to continue that legacy than Ed Markey.”
“I know it seems like there’s an election every other week, but this one’s important,” Mr. Obama told patrons at Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe in Boston’s South End.
“You can’t just turn out in a presidential election,” Mr. Obama told the crowd. “You’ve got some work to do in 2013. I need Ed Markey in the Senate.”
Although Mr. Markey is leading by single digits in polls in the Democrat-friendly state, the campaign trip also creates opportunities for Republicans to link Mr. Markey to the Obama administration’s recent scandals, such as the national-security leaks involving government surveillance programs and revelations that the Internal Revenue Service was targeting conservative groups.
Mr. Markey has criticized the broad reach of the government’s secret surveillance of the Internet and personal phone records, even as Mr. Obama has defended the tactics as necessary in the hunt for suspected terrorists.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden warned that not having Mr. Obama on the ticket could impact minority turnout in the special Senate election.
“There’s a big difference in this race,” Mr. Biden said at a fundraiser for Mr. Markey in Washington on Tuesday night. “Barack Obama’s not at the head of the ticket. And that means those legions of African-Americans and Latinos are not automatically going to come out.
“No one has energized them like Barack Obama. But he’s not on the ticket. So don’t take this one for granted. This is an off-year, off-cycle, off-month election. He needs every solitary bit of financial help you can give to carry this home.”
Partly because of the scandals, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said early Democratic congressional candidates “are running away fast” from Mr. Obama on the campaign trail.
A pro-Republican political action committee is airing a video of Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, Arizona Democrat, repeatedly refusing to say whether she would campaign with Mr. Obama.
White House press secretary Jay Carney dismissed the Preibus comments. “Spin from a political committee is what it is,” he told reporters traveling with the president aboard Air Force One.
But Democrats — determined to avoid a repeat of Republican Scott P. Brown’s unexpected Senate victory in 2010 — are pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into Massachusetts for ads supporting Mr. Markey.