Their good standing and an improving economy in the area are encouraging for the president, who desperately needs to engage white working-class voters in these must-win states.
Obama is helped by the better-than-average employment picture in Ohio and Pennsylvania, both of which recorded a rate of 7.3 percent in May, while the national level remained at 8.2 percent. Michigan’s unemployment rate in May was 8.5 percent.
The economic instability that continues to threaten Obama’s reelection hopes has not been a vulnerability for Democratic incumbents in these states.
Approval ratings for Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Robert P. Casey Jr. (Pa.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) have held steady despite continued unease among voters about the pace of the economic recovery and an overall disgust toward Congress, providing some optimism for how Obama can campaign in this critical part of the country.
As he embarked Thursday on a two-day bus tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania, the president had Brown at his side. He will stump with Casey on Friday. The tour, which runs from Toledo to Pittsburgh, presents a stark contrast to the 2010 midterm-election campaigns, when virtually no endangered Democratic incumbent sought the spotlight with Obama.
Some experts think that these Democrats might be able to help shore up the president’s support among wavering party members and swing voters. This is particularly true of Casey, who endorsed Obama early in 2008. The senator has deep support in western, central and northeastern Pennsylvania, areas of uncertainty for the president that have created an opening for Republican challenger Mitt Romney and his party to contemplate an upset in the state.
“Casey will be so far ahead that he can be a messenger to blue-collar voters,” said former Pennsylvania governor Edward G. Rendell (D).
On the bus tour his campaign is calling “Betting on America,” Obama spent his first day emphasizing gains in manufacturing and his administration’s bailout of the U.S. auto industry, hoping to appeal to voters in areas with many union workers. The title is an unsubtle jab at Romney, who has faced questions about offshore personal bank accounts and investments by Bain Capital, made during his time as head of the firm, in companies that eventually outsourced jobs abroad.
“When the American auto industry was on the brink of collapse . . . Governor Romney said we should just let Detroit go bankrupt,” Obama told a crowd of 500 supporters in this manufacturing town just south of Toledo. “I refused to turn my back on communities like this one. . . . And three years later, the American auto industry is coming roaring back.”