President Obama on Tuesday continued his hopscotch tour of blue states, honing attack lines for election season as he regaled partisan Democratic crowds with dire warnings of the economic consequences if Republicans gained control of Congress this fall.
The first three states on Obama’s coast-to-coast tour -- Washington, California and Wisconsin -- would appear to be friendly venues for some political message tests. The states delivered resounding victories to Obama in 2008 by 17, 24 and 14 percentage points, respectively.
But the flagging economy and mounting voter discontent have turned those solid Obama states into something else for the president as the midterm election approaches: major battlegrounds.
In Washington state on Tuesday, Obama raised money and support for Sen. Patty Murray, a member of the Democratic leadership team who is facing a strong challenge from Republican Dino Rossi.
Obama derisively said Rossi “earned the distinction of being the first candidate in the country to call for repeal of Wall Street reform.... Don’t you think that’s strange?”
On Monday, Obama headlined a Wisconsin fundraiser for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who is running to replace the outgoing Democratic governor, and a benefit for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in California -- a state where Obama has twice this year raked in cash for incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer.
The trip, which includes few public events, reflects a concerted effort by the White House to bolster allies in states that went strongly for Obama in his defeat of Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain in the presidential election.
“He enjoys making the case,” Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton told reporters Tuesday, adding, “As the leader of the Democratic Party, as president of the United States, he does like going out and talking to the American people, hearing what’s on their minds and explaining how he sees the choice in this election.”
At a luncheon fundraiser for Murray at a downtown Seattle hotel, Obama rolled out crisp versions of several attack lines, all designed to link Republicans to the economic policies of President George W. Bush.
“Their basic philosophy goes something like this: We’re going to cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires, folks who don’t need it, weren’t even asking for it. And we’re going to cut rules for special interests, gut regulations that protect clean air and clean water and things that most of us value. And then you’re going to cut working folks loose to fend for themselves,” Obama said.
Later, he said, “What this campaign is coming down to is that between now and November, they’re betting that you will all come down with a case of amnesia.”
No chunk of the speech appears to delight Obama more than his ever-expanding riff that casts Republicans as drivers who run a car -- the economy -- off the road, then stand around “sipping Slurpees” and carping while Democrats dig it out, only to demand the keys when the car returns to the road.
To cheers of approval, Obama closed the story with: “You can’t have the keys back. You don’t know how to drive!”
Republicans have criticized Obama’s economic record at every stop. On Tuesday, the Republican National Committee ripped Murray for supporting a stimulus bill “that did nothing to help Washington state’s economy,” and said she “carried the load for Obama and lost touch with the voters.”
The Murray campaign said the two events at which Obama appeared Tuesday raised $1.3 million.
On Tuesday night, as expected, Murray and Rossi were the top two vote-getters in the state’s Senate primary, which uses a “top two” system. Regardless of party affiliation, the two candidates with the highest vote totals face each other in November.
On Wednesday, Obama will visit Ohio, another state that helped deliver him the White House, where Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland awaits his fundraising help -- and, perhaps, another version of the car story.