The White House is reaching into political races nationwide to urge its preferred candidates to seek election to competitive seats, while helping to nudge weak contenders out of the way, according to party officials familiar with the moves.
It isn't unusual for a president to pick favorites, but the sense of urgency is heightened this year by Democrats' sense that a difficult election year lies ahead.
President Barack Obama's aides are taking pains to operate out of public view to avoid repeating embarrassing miscues made last year, when efforts to pressure unpopular New York Gov. David Paterson into retirement hit front pages and proved unsuccessful. The governor has brushed off suggestions that he step aside and stayed in re-election mode.
A more subtle White House approach came into view last week after a series of surprise decisions by top-level Democrats to abandon their candidacies. Obama aides moved instantly to lure stronger contenders to the ballot.
Obama's team hopes the early efforts will save Democratic congressional seats in 2010 and thus help advance the president's domestic agenda, and similarly keep governors seats Democratic to help rebuild grassroots political networks in time for Obama's 2012 re-election campaign.
In Connecticut, Obama called state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal on the day last week that Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd announced his retirement, highlighting the view of White House officials and Senate leaders that Blumenthal is the party's strongest candidate for Dodd's seat.