SEATTLE (Reuters) - President Barack Obama aimed his economic message at women on Thursday as he campaigned on the West Coast for female candidates crucial to his Democrats’ chances of keeping control of the U.S. Senate.
Obama will try to bolster Senators Patty Murray of Washington and Barbara Boxer of California with rallies and fundraisers over the next two days, part of a four-day trip that is his longest campaign swing as president.
Standing in the backyard of a Seattle family’s home, Obama said women now constituted half the U.S. workforce and were responsible for more than half the income of middle-class families.
“How well women do will help determine how well our families are doing as a whole,” Obama told about 30 people before taking a series of friendly questions.
Polls have shown an erosion in the slight leads held by Murray and Boxer to razor-thin margins, with less than two weeks left before the November 2 congressional elections.
Victories by Republicans in Washington and California could increase Democrats’ chances of losing their Senate majority. They are already widely forecast to lose their dominance in the House of Representatives.
Despite his poor approval ratings, Obama gave himself an upbeat assessment on one campaign stop after a woman called him the “best president on earth.” “Well, I won’t say that,” Obama replied, “but we’ve got a pretty good president.”
Obama is seeking to energize core Democratic voters. In addition to the backyard event, he has been holding big rallies reminiscent of his 2008 presidential campaign.
“We need you fired up!” Obama told an enthusiastic crowd at a packed arena at the University of Washington that followed the backyard session.
Obama said many Washington residents remembered Murray as the “mom in tennis shoes” when she first ran for the U.S. Senate 18 years ago. Murray was elected in a wave of victories for other Democratic women in 1992, which became known as the “Year of the Woman.”
“She’s helped a lot of people. She’s solved a lot of problems,” Obama said of Murray, who is running against Republican Dino Rossi.
Earlier on Thursday, the White House released a report analyzing the effects of the president’s policies on women.
The White House National Economic Council report said the recession affected women more severely than other downturns because of their bigger role in the economy. It said Obama’s policies, including healthcare reform, were helping women.
Analysts say it makes sense for the Democrats to target women, who typically support the party in higher numbers than they do Republicans.
The Republican Party is running several high-profile women as candidates, including conservative Tea Party favorites Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell, who are running for Senate seats in Nevada and Delaware.
Overall, there are almost twice as many Democratic women than Republican women running for House and Senate seats this year. Polls also show some female Tea Party favorites are struggling to attract support from women.
Obama’s popularity and that of fellow Democrats has suffered amid discontent over the sluggish economy, 9.6 percent unemployment rate and $1.3 trillion U.S. budget deficit.
Obama accuses Republicans of having “amnesia” and has been reminding voters the economic crisis began under his Republican predecessor, President George W. Bush.
Obama will travel to San Francisco later on Thursday and attend a rally for Boxer in Los Angeles on Friday. He then heads to Nevada to campaign for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is in a virtual tie in polls with Angle.
Voters will fill 37 of the 100 seats in the Senate and elect 435 members to the House of Representatives.
Writing by Caren Bohan; additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Ross Colvin and Jeff Mason in Washington; Editing by Jim Marshall and Peter Cooney