PHILADELPHIA (AP) — President Barack Obama’s final campaign swing of the midterm election season Sunday came down to part nostalgia tour and part test: Did he still have the chemistry with voters who gave him two terms as president to drive them to the ballot box one more time?
Seeking to mobilize his election coalition of young people, African-Americans, women and Latinos, Obama on Sunday made a last-minute push in Connecticut seeking to save Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy from defeat in a neck-and-neck contest two days before the election.
Obama also made a case at the Bridgeport rally that many Americans are better off today than when he came into office and they shouldn’t let critics deter them from voting.
“Despite all the cynicism, America is making progress,” Obama told the crowd of about 1,900. “Despite unyielding opposition, there are workers who have jobs today that didn’t have it before. There are families who have health insurance today that didn’t have it before. There are kids going to college today that didn’t have the opportunity to go to college before. There are troops in Afghanistan now here with their families because of your vote.”
Obama relied on the old rallying cries of hope, of being of fired up and ready to go, that branded his 2008 and 2012 contests. By his own wistful account, Sunday’s was probably his last ramble down the campaign trail for an election affecting his presidency.
But on the weekend it was clear some things had changed. When Obama campaigned for Malloy in the closing days of the 2010 campaign, he filled Bridgeport’s Arena at Harbor Yard with 9,000, nearly five times more than his crowd on Sunday.
He closed out the day in Philadelphia, rallying votes for businessman Tom Wolf, the Democrat who appears to have the edge over GOP Gov. Tom Corbett, at a rally that drew about 5,500.
“There’s almost no economic measure where we’re not doing better,” he told that crowd. But “we’ve got so much more work to do.” Obama swiped at Corbett as a governor who has presided over lagging job growth, won’t stand up for pay equity for women and opposes an increase in the minimum wage. “We need leaders who understand the 21st century,” he said.
Obama switched planes in Philadelphia for his return trip to Washington because of a mechanical problem with a flap in his earlier aircraft, the White House said. The White House described the problem as minor.
Obama’s plane arrived back near Washington after 9 p.m.
In Connecticut, Malloy and Foley are in a rematch of the 2010 race that Malloy narrowly won.
Obama’s Bridgeport speech was interrupted at least four times by protesters seeking changes to the nation’s immigration laws.
“I am sympathetic to those who are concerned about immigration,” Obama said. “It’s the other party that’s blocked it. Unfortunately, folks get frustrated and they want to yell at everybody.”
Obama’s appearances highlighted competing pressures on the president as he balances his unpopularity in states where Democrats face tough Republican challenges and the need for Democrats to energize crucial elements of their voting bloc.
Obama has focused this past week’s appearances on candidates for governor in states that he carried in both of his presidential runs. On Saturday, he headlined a rally in Detroit for Senate candidate Gary Peters and Mark Schauer, who’s running for governor, and earlier in the week he campaigned in Wisconsin, Maine and Rhode Island.
Though any Democratic losses probably would raise questions about the strength of his popularity even among his biggest fans, Democrats said not campaigning carried bigger downsides.
“There is a bigger risk in not doing everything he can to hold a Senate majority and elect Democratic governors,” said Ben LaBolt, national spokesman for Obama’s 2012 campaign. “Republicans are likely to say he didn’t perform to 2008 and 2012 levels regardless.”
Democrats outnumber Republicans in Connecticut, so motivating core voters was essential for Malloy’s survival against Foley. First lady Michelle Obama, who campaigned for Malloy on Thursday, called him an “instrumental partner” of the president, and she citied Malloy’s success in raising the minimum wage and with the state’s rollout of the federal health law.
Foley got a boost Sunday when conservative candidate Joe Visconti dropped out of the race and threw his support behind the Republican.
In Pennsylvania, Wolf has emerged as the favorite, but Corbett was seizing on Obama’s appearance to portray the Democrat as a virtual Obama running mate, hoping that antipathy toward the president would drive more Republican voters to polls.
“Voting for Tom Wolf would be like voting to make Obama Pennsylvania’s governor,” a new Corbett television ad said.
Associated Press writers Susan Haigh in Hartford, Connecticut, and Marc Levy in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, contributed to this report.