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Obama makes closing arguments before Election Day

The Washington Post's Philip Rucker journeys across America talking with voters to get to the heart of this volatile moment in American politics.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 31, 2010; 12:53 AM

CHICAGO - Though he acknowledged that the fervor and excitement of 2008 has largely slipped away, President Obama barnstormed across three states Saturday as he sought to shore up his party's midterm prospects by reigniting the energy that propelled him into office.

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He kicked off the weekend campaign swing with a seven-minute get-out-the-vote pitch to volunteers in Philadelphia, and ended the day with a full stump speech here in his home town, where Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias is locked in a neck-and-neck race for Obama's old Senate seat - a race that will help determine whether Democrats lose control of that chamber.

Obama opened up each event with a question that recalled his presidential campaign: "Are you fired up and ready to go?"

And he urged the crowd at Midway Plaisance Park in Chicago to defy the conventional wisdom. "In three days, you've got a chance to say what?" he asked his audience as he cupped his ear.

"Yes we can!" they cheered.

In key races, in battleground states that Obama won easily in 2008, he has been the point person for re-engaging the disaffected base, particularly in urban areas.

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) sounded bullish on his party's chances, saying Obama had a key role. "The State Republican party has announced that this is too late, they've got this under control here and I think they're wrong," Durbin said. "The president is going to fire up our base, remind them how important this is and I think it will make a difference."

Obama laid out a sharp contrast between his party's agenda and the GOP, saying that Republicans have done little but play politics as his party has made hard choices to revive the economy, change the health-care system and regulate the finanical industry.

"We don't want to relive the past. We've tried what their selling and we're not buying," he said. "We're not going back."

While Obama told supporters that the election two years ago wasn't about him, Democrats are betting that his lingering appeal among first time voters, African-Americans and Hispanics will boost turnout - in Philadelphia volunteers handed out leaflets with a picture of Obama and his wife on one side and a plug for Rep. Joe Sestak, running for the Senate, and Dan Onorato, who is running for governor, on the other side. Polls show Onorato trailing behind Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett, and Sestak gaining ground on former Republican congressman Pat Toomey.

Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), who attended Obama's pep talk for volunteers, said that Philadelphia is "indispensible" to statewide elections, and Mayor Micheal Nutter said that Democrats were beginning to close the enthusiasm gap, and that "every elected official in Philadelphia is focused on this election."

"We are going to drive turn aggressively in this city," he said. "People now have figured out that the 2010 election is really about 2012. They understand that voting for the president's allies strenghtens him at a time, when the Republicans are trying to weaken him in 10, they will spend all of 11 attacking him, into 12."

Obama has visited Philadelphia four times in recent weeks, and Vice President Biden and former president Bill Clinton have also been regulars on the trail in the Keystone State.

In Bridgeport, Conn., on Saturday afternoon, Obama made the pitch for Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut attorney general who leads in his Senate race against former World Wrestling Entertainment chief executive Linda McMahon, and for Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy, who is out in front of his opponent, Republican businessman Tom Foley, in the governor's race.

"Bridgeport, in three days, you've got the chance to set the direction not just for this state but for this country for years to come. And just like you did in 2008, you have the chance to defy the conventional wisdom," Obama said.

"But here's the thing, folks," he continued. "We've got to remind ourselves that our job is not yet done. We've got a lot of work to do, and this election is a choice, because the other side, basically what they want to do is go back to the exact same policies that got us into this mess in the first place."

Obama campaigns in Cleveland tomorrow afternoon and returns to the White House later in the day.

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