AUSTIN, Texas – Deep in the land of George W. Bush, President Barack Obama swept through Texas on Monday to gather Democratic cash and votes, pounding home education as not just an economic imperative but also a political wedge.
Here in the place where Bush, then Texas governor, launched his successful run for the White House, in a state Obama lost handily to Sen. John McCain two years ago, the president did the job that takes up much of his time these days.
Obama raised up to $1 million for the Democratic National Committee at a hotel in Austin, where the mantra of his midterms — "Are we going to move forward, or are we going to move backwards?" — played well to his lunch crowd.
Later, he was the headline draw at another fundraiser, in Dallas, to help Democrats in key Senate races nationwide.
And in between came an education speech at the University of Texas, where the screams of students prompted Obama to raise a voice even louder, combining for a raucous campaign feel.
This is Obama's August offensive, a string of tactical, time-gobbling campaign stops to raise a bunch of money and revitalize Democratic voters. The traditional result of approaching midterm elections is that the party of the sitting president loses seats; in this case, with anti-incumbency fervor soaring, Democrats could be in for a lashing.
Republicans need to gain 40 seats in the House and 10 in the Senate to take control of Capitol Hill. From coast to coast, Obama's message at every stop is that he is governing, Republicans are obstructing, and voters have a choice.
"We have spent the last 20 months governing. They spent the last 20 months politicking," Obama said of Republicans. With three months to go before the election, Obama all but said "bring it on": "They've forgotten I know how to politick pretty good."
The ostensible purpose of the Texas day trip was education. At the University of Texas in Austin, Obama outlined his college agenda, largely a recitation of steps already taken, if perhaps overshadowed by Washington's din.
Holding the official event along with his political appearances means the White House could bill taxpayers for most of the costs of the trip.
Obama made sure to point out it was Democrats who passed a law last year that made the government the lender of all federal government loans, eliminating banks from the process and freeing up more money for student aid.
"We went to battle against the lobbyists and a minority party that was united in their support of this outrageous status quo," Obama said. "And, Texas, I am here to report that we won."
Conspicuously absent from Obama's Texas stop was any appearance with Texas' Democratic gubernatorial hopeful, Bill White. Some Democratic candidates have been wary of appearing with the president given voters' concerns about his stewardship of the economy and other issues. White House spokesman Bill Burton said Obama took no offense.
Earlier in Austin, a mostly friendly crowd greeted Obama as his limousine neared the fundraiser. And inside, the president listed all the reasons why he was happy to back in the Texas city — the people, the food, the music.
He ended on a fitting point.
"I like that there are a bunch of Democrats here," he said. "I like that, too."