A limited role for Obama in his final campaign

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Story highlights

  • President Obama has not been visible on the campaign trail for his final Midterm election as president
  • His low approval ratings could be a drag for some Democrats in key Senate races
  • The president will travel to help Democratic candidates for governor
President Barack Obama's final campaign isn't turning into much of a victory lap.
His role in next week's midterm elections, which amount to the last important contest of his political career, has been to quietly rake in campaign cash for the Democratic party, rather than headline the stadium rallies he became famous for in 2008 and 2012.
The final week before the midterm elections is slated to be Obama's busiest, though the eleventh-hour politicking will only take the president to states that went his direction in 2008 and 2012. He'll campaign mostly for governors, whose role outside Washington puts them further from the unpopular White House policies that give Democratic Senate candidates heartburn.
The objective: turning out Democrats who don't have a great record voting in midterm contests.
His lone stop for a Senate candidate comes in Michigan on Saturday for Democrat Gary Peters, currently running ten points ahead of GOP rival Terri Land. National Republicans stopped spending ad money there weeks ago.
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Obama's truncated campaign schedule only reflects how big a drag the unpopular commander-in-chief is on his party's most vulnerable Senate candidates. The electoral calendar has left Democrats uniquely positioned to lose control of the upper chamber, a fact party insiders are already citing ahead of potential losses.
In Republican-leaning states like Louisiana and Alaska, Democrats are scrambling to keep seats amid near-record lows in Obama's approval ratings. Democratic senators are working to convince swing electorates that Obama's policies aren't necessarily their own in North Carolina, Colorado and New Hampshire. And in Republican strongholds like Georgia and Kentucky, Democratic candidates are quick to promise total independence from an unpopular White House.
That leaves Obama with few options to return to the campaign trail — his last opportunity as president.
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On Tuesday he flew to Wisconsin, where the Republican Gov. Scott Walker is virtually tied with his Democratic challenger Mary Burke in a race that's focused largely on the state's economy. It's one of the nation's marquee governor's race -- one Democrats desperately want to win -- and the highest-profile contest to feature a visit from Obama.
That Burke, a former Trek bicycle executive, doesn't have to answer for an Obama-aligned voting record makes a visit from the president tenable. And with a statewide approval figure of 51%, according to a recent Marquette survey, Obama's in far better shape in Wisconsin than he is nationwide.
"The goal of the visit is to persuade the once-every-four-year voters to vote this time," said Mortecai Lee, a professor of governmental affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. "In Wisconsin politics, the higher the turnout, the more it skews Democratic. The lower the turnout, the more it tilts GOP. So this is [Burke's] effort to increase the size of the pie rather than fighting over the small remaining undecided slice of the current pie."
Obama's other stops this week -- Thursday in Maine for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud, Friday in Rhode Island for remarks targeting women voters, and Sunday in Connecticut for Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy -- are also meant to turn out Democrats in states where he still remains somewhat popular.
In Maine, Obama's objective will be to get Democratic voters to "act like Democrats," said Brian Duff, a political science professor at the University of New England in Maine, citing past elections there that have seen independent candidates shave away support from Democrats.
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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to the media about the fight against the Ebola virus during a meeting with his Ebola Response Team in the Oval Office at the White House October 16, 2014 in Washington, DC. The president canceled two days of campaign trips to meet with officials regarding the Ebola outbreak.

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"In essence, this is a case where the question is less about matters of public policy, and more about energy and enthusiasm behind Michaud rather than the independent -- the Democrats have built some but need to keep it up another week. The president's visit should help with that," Duff said.
The same dynamic exists in Connecticut, where Obama hopes to help Malloy pull ahead in a tied race with Tom Foley, a former U.S. ambassador to Ireland.
The president's only other campaign stops this cycle, on a single Sunday this month in Maryland and Illinois, were both convened with the aim of turning out African-American voters in states already dyed blue.
The White House, which says its main focus is on combatting ISIS and stopping the spread of Ebola, has said Obama is "psyched" for his return to the campaign trail, no matter how diminished his role.
And they note that next week's results will be pinned to the president, no matter the outcome.
"I feel confident predicting in advance is that the President will at least get some credit if Democrats hold onto the majority in the Senate and he'll get more than his fair share of the blame if they don't," Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday.