Unhappy trails: Obamas and Biden hit the road

The New York Times seems as unenthused about the Democrats’ campaign as anyone:

Even President Obama called one of the questions a “softball” but the same could be said of the other queries he got on Tuesday night at a townhall-style meeting streamed over the Internet to mobilize supporters nationwide for the elections three weeks away.

And Mr. Obama, who has been criticized for lacking a clear message for voters, did not exactly clarify things when one questioner — a campaign worker from Chicago viewed over the Skype Internet phone service –- asked what “overarching message” people like her should use to get people out to vote for Democrats.

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The purpose of the event, sponsored by the Democratic National Committee, was to energize supporters and party volunteers said to be holding hundreds of house parties across the country to watch the live Web cast – to “get everyone fired up for the next three weeks,” according to a party Web site. Yet it was a low-wattage affair as Mr. Obama paced with a hand-held microphone and often rambled in his answers, and ended in less than 50 minutes.

Pres. Obama’s campaign schedule tells the tale. The president will spend the home stretch of the midterm campaign in states that he won two years ago. Even in what should be reliably Blue states, a number of his stops are fundraisers instead of rallies.

Similarly, first lady Michelle Obama makes her 2010 campaign debut today, headlining three Democratic fund-raisers. She kicks off with an appearance for Mr. 42%, Sen. Russ Feingold (who decided not to appear with the president for a recent rally in Madison) in Milwaukee, before heading south in support of endangered House and Senate candidates in her home state of Illinois. The rest of her tour includes places she should not have to be, like California and Washington state. The NYT reports the first lady will pursue “a limited campaign schedule that is focused on giving a boost to selected Democrats,” which is a far cry from two months ago, when Dems hoped she would be their “secret weapon.” Perhaps the White House realized, as Stuart Rothenberg did even then, that sending Laura Bush around on 70 campaign stops was a nonfactor in 2006.

Vice-Pres. Joe Biden is left with the thankless job of concentrating his efforts where Dems are in the biggest trouble:

Mr. Biden has been zipping around the country to places like Columbia, S.C., and hard-hit Rust Belt cities like Akron, Ohio, and Pittsburgh, while Mr. Obama has been confining himself largely to friendlier settings like college campuses and big-dollar fund-raisers.

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With a schedule heavy on appearances in swing states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, Mr. Biden is to some extent reprising the role he played in 2008. But this time his job is much harder: closing the “enthusiasm gap” between Republicans and Democrats. Independent analysts are not convinced of his usefulness.

“Democrats have it in their heads that he is still more popular in a lot of blue-collar districts where Obama is having a toxic effect,” said David Wasserman, who tracks House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “To most voters, a Biden campaign visit doesn’t make President Obama disappear.

Biden is also playing the traditional role of attack dog, bashing the GOP for the party faithful. Most observers see a GOP wave coming, despite poor public opinion ratings for the Republican brand, making Biden’s efforts superfluous. In fairness, the Obamas will be going to Ohio for a rally and two fundraisers on Sunday. It will be interesting to see which Democrats turn up to be seen with them in public.