By Scott Wilson
Monday, August 16, 2010; 11:05 PM
MENOMONEE FALLS, WIS. -- President Obama began a cross-country fundraising trip Monday, heading for states where Democratic candidates for governor and Congress face difficult races and where, two years from now, the president's own political fate may be determined.
Starting here in Wisconsin, Obama will visit five states over the next three days in the most extensive fundraising trip of his presidency. Three -- Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida -- provided crucial swing-state victories for Obama in 2008 and remain highly competitive heading into the midterm elections. California and Washington, the other two states on the itinerary, were comfortably blue two years ago, but Obama's popularity has declined in both.
Obama will speak at six events for House and Senate Democrats and a trio of gubernatorial candidates, and is expected to raise millions of dollars. He will also appear at three public events designed to highlight various elements of an economic recovery that he says is slowly taking shape because of actions by his administration.
The first of those public appearances was here Monday at ZBB Energy, a company that makes advanced battery storage systems and that benefited from stimulus money. During his travels, Obama also plans to meet with small-business owners at a bakery in Seattle and with a family in Columbus, Ohio, to talk about the economic progress that he argues would be reversed if Republicans took control of Congress in November.
"Obviously, we have a lot more work ahead," Obama, his suit jacket off and sleeves rolled up, told 100 or so ZBB employees gathered in a chilly warehouse. "But what's clear is we're headed in the right direction. And that means the worst mistake we could make is to turn back to doing the things that got us into this mess."
As the midterm election season shapes up, the White House is discussing how best to deploy Obama, whose popularity has declined more in some competitive states and districts than in others. Vice President Biden will also hit the campaign trail, particularly in regions where Obama may not be as well liked.
So far, the president is primarily raising money rather than appearing alongside candidates on the trail, although that could change as races tighten. His current trip focuses primarily on Democratic gubernatorial candidates; 37 governors will be picked in November.
After speaking at the factory here, Obama headed for a fundraising event in nearby Milwaukee for Mayor Tom Barrett, a gubernatorial candidate the White House helped recruit.
In a conference call with journalists, Reince Priebus, chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party, said Obama's past visits on behalf of Democratic candidates have been "the kiss of death," and he predicted that this one wouldn't help Barrett much. He said that in Wisconsin, "government spending is going up, but not the economy."
"There's a disconnect here, and the Democrats are making it worse," Priebus said.
Obama will raise money Wednesday in Ohio for Gov. Ted Strickland and later that day will appear in Florida with Alex Sink, the state's chief financial officer and the presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee, at a fundraiser that will benefit the state party.
Tuesday, Obama will raise money for Sen. Patty Murray, the Washington state Democrat facing a difficult race for a fourth term.
Murray has supported much of Obama's agenda, a position she plans to feature in her campaign. Although Obama won Washington by 17 points in 2008, his approval rating there has fallen to just below 50 percent, mirroring a national trend.
Obama leaves Milwaukee on Monday afternoon for Los Angeles, where he will speak at the only event of the trip to benefit the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
The fundraiser will be at the home of John Wells, the executive producer of such television shows as "ER" and "The West Wing." Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Barbra Streisand and other entertainment industry titans are expected to attend.
"Now that we've reached the home stretch of this year's election, there is no one who can more effectively draw contrasts with Republicans, fire up the base or raise money than President Obama," said Brad Woodhouse, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee. "And we are thrilled to have him doing all three."