Obama loosens tie along campaign trail to rally Democratic votes
Wednesday, August 18, 2010; 5:20 PM
COLUMBUS, OHIO -- The jacket has been off more than on. The sleeves always rolled up. And President Obama, the proxy candidate for his party this midterm election season, has warmed to the task with each stop.
Hopscotching the country, Obama has stretched campaign muscles that have atrophied a bit in the past two years. This five-day trip has been the most sustained fundraising effort of his presidency, and as the titular head of a party whose hold on congressional power is in peril, Obama has risen to the role with a competitor's zeal.
He's plunged into crowds that on official trips he'd work from rope-line distance or not at all. He's set aside teleprompter discipline to refine his stump speech on the fly and tailor it to the politics of his audience. And he's sharpened his partisan tone, telling one deep-blue audience that Republicans are "offering cynicism and they're offering fear."
But this trip has also exposed the clear risk Obama is running in framing his message, and by extension that of congressional Democrats, as a choice between the sinking economy he inherited and the staggering one he is attempting to rebuild.
In a suburban back yard Wednesday, Obama summed up the political dilemma he and his party face. He spoke to an audience of middle-class voters in this quintessential swing state: firefighters, seniors, the sons of union families.
"We've made progress," he said. "But let's face it, progress hasn't been fast enough."
The economic revival Obama has been describing on the stump is imperceptible in many of the places he's visited this week. An Associated Press-GfK poll released Wednesday shows that 41 percent of those surveyed disapprove of the way he has handled the campaign's defining issue.
Almost two-thirds said the economy has worsened or remained the same since Obama took office -- something statistically possible to refute, as Obama has vigorously attempted over the past three days, yet emotionally hard to challenge in large swaths of Wisconsin, California, Washington, Ohio and Florida, where he is scheduled to conclude his trip with a Wednesday night fundraiser.
Reince Priebus, chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party, put it simply for reporters during Obama's stop in the state earlier this week, saying, "There's a disconnect here and the Democrats are making things worse."
The hot side of politics has never come naturally to Obama, a former constitutional law lecturer whose political gifts are usually seen better at the podium than along a rope line or in a living room.
But as Air Force One touched down in Columbus late Tuesday, Obama jogged down the stairs and made straight for a small group gathered on the tarmac to greet him. Camera flashes lit Obama as he shook everyone's hand and chatted at the end of a long day of West Coast fundraising.
"He enjoys making the case," White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton said. "He obviously would enjoy it more if he could spend more time with his family."