- The Washington Times - Monday, July 13, 2009

When New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine announced that President Obama would headline his re-election rally, more than 52,000 people signed up, forcing the governor to move it to a bigger location and issue Obama fans IOUs.

Corzine aides called the enthusiastic and quick response to the upcoming rally “absolutely outstanding” and promised that those turned away would have first dibs when first lady Michelle Obama and administration officials come before the November election - or if the president makes a return trip.

Democratic candidates across the country are similarly hoping to harness some of the Obama spark that drew record crowds before the presidential election, and Mr. Obama is in top demand as state parties push him to be campaigner in chief.

The Washington Times has learned that when Mr. Obama is in the Garden State on Thursday, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will head south to Richmond for a fundraiser with state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, the Democrats’ gubernatorial candidate in Virginia.

Mr. Biden already has held a rally with Mr. Corzine, and Mr. Obama has promised to campaign for Mr. Deeds as well.

That’s an early preview of the long election season this year. Democrats are putting most of their efforts into the governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey, where they hope their party will retain the seats.

Corzine campaign manager Maggie Moran said some of the 52,000 who signed up online to see Mr. Obama share the stage with the governor will get calls confirming they can attend the Thursday rally, moved from Rutgers University to the 18,000-seat PNC Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J.

The people who are left out of the Corzine-Obama rally will be put on a “preferred reservation list” for the next event, Ms. Moran told supporters in a Web video.

“There will be many other opportunities for you to partake in an event with the president, the first lady and others in the Obama administration and the governor as we move forward,” she said, adding that those rejected for Thursday will get the “first chance” to attend the other events and encouraging volunteers to give time to the campaign.

Mr. Corzine could have trouble against Republican challenger Chris Christie.

The Republican Governors Association released a poll of 600 voters timed with the Obama visit showing Mr. Christie leading Mr. Corzine 47.8 percent to 33 percent. More than 19 percent were undecided in the Basswood Research poll, which also shows the Obama visit will not sway 71 percent of respondents.

Mike Schrimpf, communications director for the Republican Governors Association, dismissed the rallies as Mr. Corzine’s attempt to distract New Jersey voters and to link himself to Mr. Obama.

“Governors’ races are about state issues and how the incumbent has managed the state, [and] voters are smart enough to separate Barack Obama and Jon Corzine,” he said.

The Republican poll also showed nearly 79 percent of respondents view the governor and president separately.

Both the president and vice president have hosted fundraisers for Democrats, but Thursday will be Mr. Obama’s first campaign rally since he took office.

Mr. Biden campaigned with Sen. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas earlier this year and sent e-mails for special election candidates through the old Obama for America campaign list. The vice president’s visit likely will help Mr. Deeds raise money in battleground Virginia as he faces a competitive race with Republican former Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell.

When Mr. Deeds defeated former Delegate Brian Moran and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe in the June primary, Mr. Obama asked Virginians to support the new nominee.

The president also spoke to Mr. Deeds on the phone, telling the Democrat he is “committed to helping him win this November,” though no rallies have been scheduled.

Deeds spokesman Jared Leopold said his boss is looking forward to campaigning with Mr. Obama, who won Virginia in both the 2008 Democratic primary and in the general election.

The 2010 races also loom large, with competitive Senate races in a few swing states such as Florida, Ohio and Missouri. Aside from the Corzine rally Thursday, the White House is not talking politics, but state parties across the country are jockeying for presidential visits.

For the University of California at Merced, it took thousands of letters, valentines and YouTube videos from the student body before first lady Michelle Obama agreed to speak at the commencement ceremony.

“I’m sure every state Democratic party wants a presidential visit, but California, and our 7.6 million Democrats, wants it the most,” said state party spokeswoman Kate Folmar.

Polls show Mr. Obama’s popularity rating has slipped in battleground states such as Ohio, mostly because the economy is still struggling.

Democrats are not worried and say Mr. Obama will stay atop candidates’ requests on the campaign trail this year and in 2010.

“Certainly, the president’s message and leadership have excited the grass roots, and just as importantly, his commitment to build a ground-up movement has excited campaigns and state parties,” said Democratic National Committee spokesman Hari Sevugan.

• Christina Bellantoni can be reached at 125725@example.com.

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