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Wisconsin Democratic Candidate Welcomes Obama When Others Won't


There's that axiom in the field of medicine, first, do no harm. It seems President Obama is following that when it comes to campaigning this midterm election season. You won't find him in Arkansas, or Louisiana, or North Carolina, or New Hampshire, where Democratic senators face tough reelection fights. They're doing everything they can to keep him at arm's length. But last night, the president was in Wisconsin. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith went along.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Many Democratic candidates don't want to be seen on a stage with President Obama. Mary Burke, the Democrat running for governor in Wisconsin, isn't one of them.


MARY BURKE: So I am thrilled that he is in Wisconsin to help us out. And I know that you can't wait to hear from him.

KEITH: The latest polls put President Obama's approval rating somewhere around 45 percent. But you wouldn't know it from the welcome he got at the gym at North Division High School in Milwaukee.


BURKE: Please join me in a big, Wisconsin welcome for the president of the United States, President Barack Obama.


KEITH: To call this friendly territory is an understatement. In 2012, Obama got 99.2 percent of the vote in the neighborhood around the school. It didn't take long for him to get down to the reason for his visit, getting out the vote. He argued it isn't enough just for the people in the room to vote. They have to reach out to their friends, their coworkers, their family.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You know, the lazy cousin who's sitting at home, never votes during the midterm elections. He's watching reruns of old Packer games.

KEITH: The lazy cousin is becoming a staple of Obama's midterm campaign stump speech along with calls for raising the minimum wage, equal pay for women and student loan relief for college kids. Mary Burke is running against Scott Walker, the incumbent Republican governor. Recent polls show the race is a dead heat. So why does Burke want to campaign with Obama? Here's the calculation. Public opinion is pretty well set in Wisconsin, and voter turnout could easily decide the race. Burke needs big numbers from African-Americans, union members, young people, core Democratic voters.

JULIA AZARI: And Obama's a really energizing figure for that political segment.

KEITH: Julia Azari is a political scientist at Marquette University in Milwaukee. Among the voters Burke needs to be energized, Azari says Obama remains popular.

AZARI: So in this sense it's useful for Obama to kind of put himself, you know, metaphorically speaking, symbolically speaking, on that ballot. The idea is to keep them from sitting out the midterm.

KEITH: Though when Obama said his policies were on the ballot recently, it spawned negative campaign ads in a number of competitive Senate races. Obama has five more campaign stops scheduled this week, all in blue states. Ed Rendell is a Democrat and former Pennsylvania governor.

ED RENDELL: And the states that the president has chosen to go into are states where, you know, he has always done well, where he has a significant following and still does.

KEITH: Obama will campaign in Philadelphia on Sunday for Tom Wolf, the Democrat running for governor. Rendell says Wolf is so far ahead in the polls, the campaign worries voters might stay home, figuring their votes aren't needed. That, Rendell says, is where the Obama turnout machine comes in.

RENDELL: People aren't doing him a favor, you know. The president isn't begging, let me come into your state. I advised the Wolf campaign strongly to get the president; get him in here near the end of the campaign. And he's our best weapon on turnout.

KEITH: Other stops include Michigan, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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