President Obama swept into New Jersey today, headlining two campaign rallies for Gov. Jon Corzine in an eleventh-hour attempt to help the embattled Democrat pull out a once-unthinkable victory in the state's closely watched governor's race.
Obama spoke in the Democratic bastions of Camden and Newark, trying to convince voters who turned out for him in droves in 2008 to do the same for Corzine on Election Day this Tuesday.
"He's one of the best partners I have in the White House. We work together," Obama told a rally of 3,500 people in Camden. "We know our work is far from over."
Corzine reinforced the theme, calling Obama "our friend, our partner," and added, "I'm here to ask you a simple question: Are you ready to keep it going? ... Today I am standing with President Obama. That tells you everything you need to know."
Opinion polls point to a photo finish between Corzine and Republican Chris Christie, a former U.S. attorney in New Jersey. Independent Chris Daggett has been polling in the low double-digits and could affect the outcome.
The White House is anxious for a win in New Jersey, to counter an expected Republican triumph in Virginia, the only other governorship up for grabs in the off-year elections.
A Republican sweep in both states would be cast, fairly or not, as a sign of weakness for Obama and the Democrats -- potentially complicating the president's efforts to enact his agenda and energizing the GOP heading into the crucial 2010 midterm elections.
Corzine taped a commercial not too long ago that began, "I'm New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, and I should be dead." It was a public service announcement for seat belts after a car crash in April 2007 left him with 15 broken bones and breathing on a ventilator in intensive care.
But Corzine could have been talking about his political prospects. He trailed Christie by 15 points in one poll over the summer. Many Democrats had written off his campaign as a lost cause.
He has been able to claw back in the race, partly by hitching himself to Obama, who swept New Jersey by a margin of 57 percent to 42 percent in the 2008 election and remains popular there.
Obama's visit Sunday was his third trip to New Jersey for Corzine since July, and the second in 11 days. All of his appearances have been to solidly Democratic communities, an effort to rev up turnout for the incumbent.
Team Corzine also has plastered the state with billboards and stuffed mailboxes with literature, all showing Corzine and Obama together, with the slogan "Yes We Can 2.0." During an Obama visit in July, signs were distributed touting "Obama & Corzine," as if they were running mates.
Obama also has starred in Internet and television ads for Corzine. The effort is anything but subtle. One spot flashes the slogan, "2008: A movement begins ... In 2009 we keep it going!"
"Corzine does benefit by reminding people he is a Democrat and so is Obama," said David Redlawsk, professor of political science at Rutgers University and director of the Rutgers-Eagleton poll.
Other prominent Democrats also have stumped for Corzine, including Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton and Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of former President John F. Kennedy.