Control of Congress at stake, President Barack Obama entreated voters Friday to stick with Democrats on Nov. 2 even though times are tough and the electricity of his presidential campaign can seem like a faded memory.
"Change is hard," Obama told supporters at a fundraiser for Sen. Barbara Boxer of California on day three of a four-day campaign swing from Portland to Minneapolis aimed at shielding imperiled Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.
"We knew it was going to be hard. I told you it was going to be hard. And yet we've made a difference," the president said. "Don't let anybody tell you that that work we put in has not made a difference."
Trying mightily to reknit the coalition that sent him to the White House, Obama was reaching out to Latino voters, college students, women and others as he sought to boost the candidacies of key congressional allies whose success or failure on Election Day will help determine the fate of his own agenda.
On Friday, Obama was campaigning for Boxer in Los Angeles and later Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in Las Vegas. The day before it was Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., in Seattle.
Boxer is in a tight race with former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina, while Reid is in a tossup campaign against tea party favorite Sharron Angle in the nation's most-watched Senate race.
Obama was addressing big outdoor rallies in both Los Angeles and Las Vegas, as well as private fundraisers for Boxer and Reid. In Los Angeles, he was also taping a segment for a popular Spanish-language radio program, the Piolin show.
California also elects a governor on Nov. 2, and Republicans privately expressed concern about the fate of their candidate, Meg Whitman. They said private polls showed her falling behind former Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in recent days, despite spending more than $150 million of her own money on the campaign. These officials spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to disclose confidential survey data.
Everywhere he went the president asked voters to keep on believing in the promise of change, even though he acknowledged that it's been slow to come and that the euphoria supporters felt when he won the presidency has dissipated.
"I recognize some of you may feel now that, gosh, it seems so distant from those wonderful memories, and change is harder than I expected," Obama told an enthusiastic crowd that overflowed a sunny quad at the University of Southern California. USC officials estimated 32,500 people were there and 5,000 others watched on jumbotrons from an overflow area.
"Inch by inch, day by day, week by week, we've been grinding it out," he said. "Because that's the nature of change in a big, complex democracy."
Obama appeared with Boxer and Brown at the USC rally. Los Angeles brought a dash of Hollywood celebrity as Jamie Foxx warmed up the crowd and Stevie Wonder performed for supporters at Boxer's earlier fundraiser.
But the task of motivating voters is infinitely harder this time around. Apart from the country's economic woes and the fact that Obama is no longer the fresh, new face he once was, turnout is always lower in non-presidential election years, and the party in control of the White House traditionally loses seats in Congress in midterm elections.
As Obama campaigned on the West Coast, Democratic and Republican party leaders back in Washington privately pored over the latest polling data to determine where to spend their limited resources on TV ads and get-out-the-vote efforts in the final 10 days of the campaign.
Democrats were increasingly focusing on the most competitive states and congressional districts in the hope that a superior turnout operation will help them win enough races to hang onto control of Congress, even if only by a slim margin.
Republicans were zeroing in on states where they've seen their leads shrink in recent days — like the Pennsylvania Senate contest — as voters started paying increasing attention ahead of Election Day.
Attention was focused heavily on the most competitive Senate races — Nevada, California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Washington, Colorado, West Virginia — and roughly two dozen House races in a battlefield that's rapidly expanded to 75 or more seats in play. Republicans would need to win 40 seats to take the House and 10 to take the Senate.
Associated Press writers David Espo, Liz Sidoti and Erica Werner in Washington contributed to this report.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.
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