NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — President Barack Obama urged Virginians Tuesday to elect a Democrat as governor next week, but party officials braced for a defeat that could take some sheen off Obama's first year in office.
Last fall, Obama became the first Democratic presidential nominee to carry Virginia since 1964. But the state remains highly competitive, and Obama has had little apparent success in boosting the hopes of Creigh Deeds, the Democrat who is trailing Republican Bob McDonnell in polls ahead of the Nov. 3 election.
Still, Obama delighted a partisan audience of several thousand people at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, portraying Deeds as the rightful successor to popular Democratic governors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.
Without naming McDonnell, Obama described him in terms he often uses for GOP critics in Congress.
"We don't need politicians who are more interested in scoring points than solving problems," Obama said. "We don't need folks who are slick or try to say one thing and then do another. We don't need politicians who say we should go back to the policies of yesteryear, when it was those very same policies that got us into this mess in the first place."
Political pros say gubernatorial races turn mainly on state issues, and they rarely serve as referendums on other matters, such as a president's popularity. But Obama was inevitably drawn into the contest — and this year's only other gubernatorial race, in New Jersey — and he made a final in-person pitch for Deeds at Tuesday's rally.
A recent Washington Post poll showed McDonnell leading Deeds by 11 percentage points. About 30 percent of those surveyed said their view of Obama played some role in their thinking, and those voters were about evenly split between Deeds and McDonnell.
Publicly, Obama aides say they have done what they could to help Deeds, and they brush off complaints that they should have tried harder.
Virginia "is probably as purple as it can get," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday, using the term for places evenly divided between red Republicans and blue Democrats.
Obama will later campaign for New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine's re-election bid, where Democrats have higher hopes of winning.
Obama won Virginia with more than 52 percent of the vote in 2008.