- The Washington Times - Friday, July 17, 2009

HOLMDEL, N.J. | They partied like it was 2008.

President Obama - facing tough fights over domestic policy at home - returned to the campaign trail for the first time Thursday and basked in 18,000 screaming fans chanting “Yes we can.”

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, who brought the president in to help with what is shaping up to be a difficult re-election bid, was almost an afterthought as the people crammed into the stadium, proudly wearing buttons and T-shirts bearing Mr. Obama’s image.

The governor, trailing his Republican opponent by double digits in some polls, spoke for just a few minutes before turning the podium over to Mr. Obama, who went into full hope-and-change campaign mode.

He also offered an assault on the “old” ways of thinking in Washington and many lines from his campaign, decrying Republican “scare tactics” and promising nothing could stop progress during this “transformative moment.”

“We’re creating a movement for change, and that doesn’t begin in Washington; that begins here in New Jersey,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Corzine said he was swept off his feet first meeting Mr. Obama as a 2004 U.S. Senate candidate, calling him “unlike anyone I had ever met in my life.”

“Once in a generation - if we’re lucky - a leader emerges from the crowded ranks of public life to summon our best instincts - a leader to marshal the generous and inventive spirit of the American people,” Mr. Corzine said. “I knew that Barack Obama could be just that kind of leader.”

But the governor did not mention that he had campaigned against him during the 2008 Democratic primary when Mr. Obama faced then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In April 2007, Mr. Corzine called Mrs. Clinton a “leader” who was the “most qualified person to be president.”

On Thursday, the men embraced and called each other partners, with Mr. Obama saying he needs someone with Mr. Corzine’s grit to help him achieve his goals in Washington.

But it was clear the majority in the crowd was not as excited to see Mr. Corzine.

“I’m here, of course, to see the president,” said Carolyn Bryant, an unemployed former health insurance worker from Orange, N.J. As for the governor, “I can’t complain,” she said, adding that she took her 6-year-old grandson to the rally to see “history.”

During a 200-person fundraiser that raised $1 million for the state Democratic Party before the rally, Mr. Obama went into detail about Mr. Corzine’s work on property tax relief and schools. During the rally itself, he stuck to a broader national agenda with an emphasis on the health care plan that is being debated on Capitol Hill.

“He hasn’t avoided doing what’s hard,” Mr. Obama said, calling the governor an “ally” when it came to passing the $787 billion economic stimulus plan.

From the stage layout to the energetic music played before the rally at PNC Bank Arts Center, the event smacked of Mr. Obama’s long 2008 campaign. He even offered his standard “I love you back” when an audience member professed her love, and his voice was hoarse when he concluded with a request the crowd re-elect Mr. Corzine.

When it was over, Mr. Obama jogged from the stage to the front row below to shake hands as cell phone cameras snapped away.

The Corzine campaign handed out blue and white signs reminiscent of the 2008 Obama-Biden logo, and these had Mr. Obama’s name at the top as if he and Mr. Corzine were running on a joint ticket. The tagline was: “Working together to keep New Jersey working.”

The cheers were so loud at points during the rally that reporters were straining to hear Mr. Obama.

State party boosters speaking before the rally worked to tie the Republican candidate, Chris Christie, to former President George W. Bush.

Visitors to Mr. Christie’s Web site Thursday were greeted with a large headline - “I voted for Obama” - which links to a video of Democrats who say they support the Republican candidate.

On his Twitter feed, Mr. Christie said the people in the video are “NJ Dems who know that real change starts with changing governors.”

Polls released before the rally suggested it would have little impact on the race in which Mr. Corzine trails Mr. Christie but is tighter when third-party candidates are included.

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