West Wing briefing

Obama heads west to discuss economy, campaign for candidates

By Anne Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 8, 2010; 4:52 PM

President Obama heads west Thursday for a two-day trip that will combine a focus on the economic recovery with stumping for candidates in Missouri and Nevada. The country's Democrat-in-chief plans to road-test a midterm election message: that the country can achieve Wall Street reform and a curb on corporate interests only if it elects -- or reelects -- lawmakers from his party.

Obama tried a sharp-edged version of that argument last week on a visit to Wisconsin, singling out specific Republican lawmakers for defending corporate interests.

This week, Obama is expected to hit similar themes as he campaigns with Robin Carnahan and Harry Reid, the Democratic candidates in two toss-up races that could determine the balance of power in the Senate.

"Expect to hear a lot about reforming Washington," one Democratic strategist involved in the races said.

Obama will visit an electric car manufacturer in Kansas City on Thursday before attending a fundraiser for Carnahan. The company, Smith Electric Vehicles, received a $32 million Recovery Act grant to help launch an assembly plant at Kansas City International Airport that will build all-electric trucks.

Late Thursday afternoon, the president will fly to Las Vegas, where he will attend an evening fundraiser for Reid. He will spend the night in Las Vegas and make remarks about financial regulatory reform at an event there Friday morning.

Just a few months ago, neither presidential visit would have gotten quite the billing both are receiving this week. Carnahan, who is running for an open Senate seat, kept Obama at arm's length when he made an earlier trip to Missouri -- attending a meeting in Washington rather than flying home to be photographed with the president, whose approval rating in her state is relatively low.

And on Obama's last swing through Nevada, Reid, the Senate majority leader, was considered in such poor political health that even a presidential visit might not do much good.

These days, Reid's odds appear much better in his race against Sharron Angle, a tea party favorite who won the Republican primary in Nevada last month.

And although Carnahan is still locked in a very close race against Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt (R), Democratic officials have expressed some optimism that she is exceeding expectations, given the disdain for Democratic control of Washington they are detecting elsewhere. Carnahan and Blunt are vying for the Senate seat that will be vacated by retiring Sen. Christopher S. "Kit" Bond (R).

Given the current environment, Democratic strategists are hopeful that Obama's swing through two time zones could be more useful than in earlier months. "In Nevada, he will definitely be a help, and in Missouri, we need the money," a Democratic official said.

One of the complicating factors in Missouri is that, while both Carnahan and Blunt are running as outsiders on a "reform" platform, both have extensive political and Washington ties. Blunt is a prominent conservative member of Congress whose son is a former governor; Carnahan's father was a governor who was elected to the Senate shortly after he died in 2000.

Nonetheless, both candidates are campaigning on anti-incumbency. Blunt's first television ad, which aired this week, includes a biographical portrait that does not mention his time as a member of Congress.

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