MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - President Barack Obama, dashing through the U.S. West to campaign for endangered Democrats, proved he still has plenty of star power but it’s far from clear that’s enough to rescue his party from an election disaster.
Wrapping up a jam-packed trip with 10 days to go before the November 2 congressional elections, Obama revved up a crowd of more than 11,000 in Minneapolis on Saturday by touting his achievements of healthcare and financial reform legislation.
He warned that if the election results in a return to power for Republicans in the U.S. Congress, they will try to repeal those landmark laws.
“We just had the worst financial crisis since the 1930s and one of their first orders of business would be to eliminate protections for consumers, eliminate protections for taxpayers, go back to a system that resulted in us having to save the entire economy and take these drastic measures,” Obama said.
”Why would we do that?“ he said. ”Why would we go back to the healthcare policies that they believe in where insurance companies can drop your insurance when you get sick.
Obama’s closing campaign message depicts Democrats as fighters for the middle class and Republicans as defenders of special interests like health insurers and credit card issuers.
But Republicans have gained traction by criticizing Obama’s healthcare law, the $814 billion stimulus and other Democratic policies as examples of a “big-government” approach.
Obama’s response, which he repeated throughout his five-state campaign tour, was to acknowledge that “government can’t solve every problem” but also to highlight its role in supporting education and initiatives like clean energy.
The crowd who came to hear Obama speak at the University of Minnesota chanted his “Yes, we can slogan” and laughed along with his depiction of Republicans as the politicians who drove the country into a ditch -- a standard metaphor in his campaign speeches.
It was one in a succession of big crowds Obama has drawn as he rallied supporters in Portland, Oregon; Seattle; Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
His biggest rally on the trip, at the University of Southern California on Friday, attracted 37,500 people.
The ability to draw huge crowds was a signature of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and a reprise of those kinds of events appeared to energize him, despite the cold he was fighting at the beginning of the trip.
Obama also headlined a series of fundraisers for his party, raking in millions to help pay for candidate advertising and managed to squeeze in a visit to the studio of popular Latino radio personality Piolin, part of an effort to target his message toward key Democratic constituencies.
The Minnesota visit was aimed at helping Democrat Mark Dayton in his gubernatorial bid. Dayton, a former senator, leads his opponent, Tom Emmer, by six percentage points.
But many of the other candidates he campaigned for appear to be facing tougher races. Among those is Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, who has been neck and neck for weeks with his opponent, Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle.
Also likely to go down to the wire are the Senate contests in Washington state, where incumbent Democrat Patty Murray is trying to fend off a challenge from Republican Dino Rossi, and California, where incumbent Barbara Boxer is vying with former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina.
Democrats are likely to see their majority weakened in the U.S. Senate though many pollsters say a Republican takeover of the chamber is unlikely. Still, Democrats hope Obama’s visit will help draw a firewall around some of the key seats.
Democrats’ prospects in the House of Representatives appear much more grim. Republicans need to pick up 39 Democratic seats to claim a 218-vote House majority. The latest polls suggest that threshold is well within their reach.
Election analyst Charlie Cook, for example, wrote this week that the November 2 vote could mirror the 1994 election when Republicans picked up 52 seats in the House. Forecaster Larry Sabato projected the Republicans would gain 47 seats.
Following the University of Minnesota rally, Obama headlined a Minnesota fundraiser where he was introduced by House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi, who would have to give up the powerful job of speaker if Republicans were to take the House, said Democrats “fully intend” to keep control of the chamber.
Editing by Philip Barbara and Eric Beech