White House: Obama to campaign with candidates for midterms

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Story highlights

  • President Obama is set to hit the trail for Democratic candidates
  • The 2014 midterm elections take place in less than four weeks
  • He won't be going to some deeply red states, an official says
  • He has largely been off the trail because of his low job approval numbers
Just months after President Obama was described by his own advisers as a "bear" on the loose, there are few midterm sightings of the man once dubbed the "campaigner in chief" by his Republican adversaries.
The President has spent much of the 2014 cycle behind closed doors, either cloistered inside the White House cocoon dealing with a seemingly endless series of crises and scandals, or at private fundraisers, urging donors to write checks to top Democratic Party campaign and political action committees.
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That political calendar will evolve somewhat as Election Day draws near, a White House official told CNN. For starters, the President will appear at events with Democratic candidates in the coming weeks, the official said.
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Obama will make the argument for policies aimed at middle class voters, just as he did in last week's speech on the economy in Chicago.
"The President has already succeeded in making a pretty aggressive case about why that's important for the country, and I would anticipate that in the context of the upcoming elections you'll hear the President make that case again," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.
Even though the White House is not quite ready to announce Obama's upcoming campaign stops, there are a few states that can be crossed off the map.
Races in Louisiana, Arkansas, Alaska, where incumbent Democratic senators face uphill battles to win reelection, remain at the top of the Obama no-go list.
"There are definitely deeply red states in play this cycle where it won't make sense to send the President," a White House official said.
So far, Obama is also avoiding crucial Senate races in states where he won decisive victories in the past. The White House has yet to signal any plans to send the President to Iowa, a critical battleground he captured twice: in 2008 and 2012.
Instead, first lady Michelle Obama will travel to Iowa Friday to appear with Democratic congressman Bruce Braley, who remains locked in a close race with state Sen. Joni Ernst for the seat vacated by liberal stalwart Tom Harkin.
"We defer to the campaigns who know their states best how to win," a White House official said.
Another sign of Obama's drag on his party's midterm hopes can be found in North Carolina, a critical Obama victory in 2008 that he and his party failed to translate into a more lasting Democratic incursion into southern red states in the years that followed.
Despite North Carolina's potentially strong base of Democratic support from African-Americans and countless college-aged voters, Obama has become a major obstacle for the state's endangered incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan.
Her opponent, state House Speaker Tom Tillis, repeatedly tried to link Hagan to the President during a debate Tuesday in the state's prosperous Research Triangle area.
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"I think it's fair to make this election about his policies," Tillis said in the debate.
That remark was a reminder of a comment made by Obama at a speech on the economy last week in Chicago: "These policies are on the ballot -- every single one of them," the President said. His long-time adviser, David Axelrod, called that part of the speech a "mistake."
Michael Steel, a spokesman for U.S. House Speaker John Boehner and a midterm strategist for the North Carolina Republican Party, described the Obama factor as "huge" in Tuesday's debate.
"Her worst moments in the debate were when she refused to distance herself from the President," Steel said of Hagan.
A key Democratic Party operative, who asked to speak on condition of anonymity, said inserting Obama into crucial campaign contests carries some risk. Not only does the President's unpopularity drive up enthusiasm among conservatives, the strategist said. It may encourage some moderate Democrats to stay home.
"Even Obama supporters, they're disappointed in him," the strategist said. "We can't find a way to motivate them."
The first lady, Vice President Joe Biden, and Bill and Hillary Clinton are seen as better alternatives.
Even though Biden has spent the last several days calling leaders in the Middle East to clarify his comments that appeared to suggest Arab nations were partly responsible for the rise of ISIS, the vice president appears to be in demand among Democrats.
"So what if he f***ed up?" one Democratic strategist said, noting the party's base is attracted to the vice president's "Uncle Joe" shoot-from-the-lip style. Biden just wrapped up an event on Tuesday with Amanda Renteria, a congressional candidate in California. He is scheduled to appear with Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon on Wednesday.
The one campaign setting where the president appears to thrive are fundraisers. A White House official provided a list of approximately 50 fundraisers where Obama has spoken to Democratic donors this year. His events this week in New York, Connecticut, Washington and Chicago generated between $2-3 million, Democratic sources said.