MILWAUKEE – Flying thousands of miles to reap millions of dollars, President Barack Obama is dashing across the country to help his party retain power, essentially offering one familiar argument: Republicans don't solve problems.
"Don't give in to fear," Obama said Monday in his latest ominous vision of a country led by the opposition party. "Let's reach for hope."
Obama has settled on his message for the pivotal midterm elections, which means what he said Monday in Milwaukee will sound like what he says Tuesday in Seattle and Wednesday in Miami. He is covering more than 8,000 freewheeling miles in three days, the kind of personal attention that gets donors to the door.
This week offers not just a window for Obama to campaign — Congress is gone, his summer vacation awaits — but also a window into his thinking about the fall campaign. Despite deep voter impatience over the sickly economy, the White House is betting people will stick with Democrats if the choice is framed as one between those who act and those who obstruct.
On Monday, he warned of reliving a dreadful past, saying Republicans want voters "to be afraid of the future."
"The worst thing we could do is to go back to the very same policies that created this mess in the first place," Obama said at a fundraiser in Wisconsin. "In November, you're going to have that choice."
Obama has advanced all the big parts of his agenda — the massive stimulus spending bill, health care reform, the rewriting of rules for Wall Street — with little or no Republican support. Republicans counter that the president's policies have come at a huge cost to taxpayers far into the future without the payoff many voters want most: jobs.
Obama's campaign speech is filled with lines he has used for weeks. As intended, they usually yield fresh laughs and applause from local, friendly audiences who have never had occasion to hear them before. Like his metaphor about Republicans and driving: put the car in "D" (as in Democrat) if you want to move ahead, "R" if you want to go backward.
As leader of the Democratic Party, even with diminished appeal, Obama has political job description that demands he help elect lawmakers and state executives who support his agenda. He needs them, too.
In Milwaukee, Obama spoke at a basketball arena to raise money for the state Democratic Party and for Tom Barrett, the city mayor who is running for governor in a competitive race. Campaign officials refused to say how much Obama raised. Lunch tickets cost $250, but getting a photo with the president could be had for $10,000 donation.
By nightfall, Obama was to be in Los Angeles for a glitzy fundraiser for Democratic congressional candidates at the home of television producer John Wells, whose hits include "The West Wing." The event, which also features House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plus such Hollywood figures as Steven Spielberg, included ticket packages that cost $30,400 per couple.
The president is also raising money over the next two days for Sen. Patty Murray of Washington; Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio; and the Florida Democratic Party. By pairing official events each day with political ones, the White House can bill taxpayers for most of the cost of the trip, a tradition that predates Obama and one he plans to continue aggressively.
In November, all 435 House seats, one-third of the Senate, and a majority of governor's and legislative jobs will be on the ballot. Democrats now control the House and Senate, but the hurting economy has turned voters against incumbents.
Obama's official agenda each day is to underline his efforts to jump-start the lumbering economy. That was his message at ZBB Energy Corp. in Menomonee Falls, Wis., where he told workers they are helping rebuild America.
Before his plane even landed, White House spokesman Bill Burton offered unsolicited criticism of comments by Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, who was quoted as saying he wished Republicans had been to able to obstruct Obama even more. Obama later mocked McConnell's words, too.
"Obstruct more? Is that even possible?" Obama said. "Apparently that's their plan for the future: No we can't."
Democrats, particularly House candidates who have taken tough votes in support of Obama, have been clamoring for him to get more aggressive. But that comes at some risk for a president who pledged to change Washington's tone as a candidate, then recommitted to doing it in his second year as president after acknowledging he was unsuccessful in the first.
When asked if Obama was exacerbating the same partisanship he pledged to end, Burton was unapologetic, saying certain moments help make the choice stark for voters. "The president," he said, "is happy to showcase those moments."