Obama's Del. trip is chance to keep O'Donnell on radar

President Barack Obama is imploring Democrats to show him the energy and motivation that helped carry him to power in 2008. He told a spirited Philadelphia rally that his agenda is at stake in next month's elections.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 11, 2010; 12:04 PM

As President Obama steps up his campaign schedule this week, one event is something of a head-scratcher: his trip to Delaware on Friday to campaign for Democratic senatorial candidate Chris Coons.

Coons, of course, appears to be running well ahead of Republican nominee Christine O'Donnell, even in the White House's own assessment. Delaware still leans Democratic, and since the primary defeat of moderate Republican candidate Michael Castle, Democrats have been favored to win.

But that is beside the point.

Campaigning for Coons - and, more important, against O'Donnell - gives Obama a chance to remind voters nationwide about the Republican nominee, whom Democrats have gleefully embraced as an example of an extreme conservative. In political parlance, this is known as "elevating" your opponent, something Obama has also done with House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

White House officials believe candidates such as O'Donnell, especially O'Donnell, have mobilized their previously disaffected liberal base a few weeks before the midterms, giving them a greater chance of keeping control of the House and Senate. Democratic strategists said the Delaware race is having a spillover effect into neighboring Pennsylvania, which has an overlapping media market, appearing to help Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak.

There's little danger that the Friday event, scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, will go uncovered. Obama isn't just visiting; he is also bringing Vice President Biden, who formerly occupied the Senate seat and has already campaigned on behalf of Coons.

Democratic officials insisted the stop isn't all about celebrating their luck with the O'Donnell nomination. "There's nothing you can bank on in this cycle," one strategist said, requesting anonymity so as to discuss political developments more candidly. "Christine O'Donnell came out of nowhere in the primary." At the same time, the strategist said, the visit gives Obama and Biden a chance "to go help out a guy who's going to be a United States senator."

"Given the map out there, there's a finite number of places Obama can go, and this is one of them," the strategist said.

Obama has a busy political week, including other joint visits. On Monday night, he travels to Miami with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for a fundraiser for House Democrats. On Tuesday evening at 7 p.m., he holds a town hall meeting sponsored by the Democratic National Committee at George Washington University. He holds another town hall on Thursday at 4 p.m., to be aired on MTV, BET and CMT. Then he flies to Boston on Saturday for a Democratic National Committee event, followed by a trip to Ohio on Sunday for the next in his series of campus rallies. First lady Michelle Obama will be with him on the Ohio trip.

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