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President Obama: Going Where He’s Wanted

With less than two weeks go before the midterm elections, most Democrats are trained on salvaging control of the House.

Except perhaps the president.

A review of Mr. Obama's travel schedule in the weeks leading up to the election show that he's focused primarily on Senate and gubernatorial races as he jets around the country to raise money and gin up the base.

In the coming days, the president heads to Seattle to give Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) a boost in her race with Republican challenger Dino Rossi. He flies to Nevada for a DNC dinner and to try to bolster the chances of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in his contest against GOP hopeful Sharron Angle.

The president already did a trip to Massachusetts to assist Gov. Deval Patrick (D-MA) and a jaunt to Ohio to appear on stage with Gov. Ted Strickland (D-OH).

But House Democrats aren't exactly clamoring for President Obama to hit the campaign trail with them.

Democrats could lose the House. But the Senate is a different story.

So why wouldn't Mr. Obama spend more time stumping for House candidates?

"You go where you're wanted," said Brookings Institution Congressional scholar Tom Mann. "You go where you can do more good than harm."

Mann says the president's presence really wouldn't make much of a difference if he parachuted in around the country to help with specific House races. He says it's up to the individual House member.

"If (Rep.) Tom Perriello (D-VA) thought it would help him, he'd dash down to Charlottesville," said Mann of the imperiled freshman Democrat who won in a 2008 upset by several hundred votes.

But some Democratic operatives say that Mr. Obama can actually help by operating around the edges of House seats while paying particular attention to Senate and gubernatorial contests.

"What he's better at is raising money and energizing the Democratic base," said Democratic political strategist Joe Trippi. "There isn't a Democratic base to start with in many of the races that are in play. There are very few marginal seats where he could help."

Trippi says the same would be the case if President George W. Bush were still in office. In fact, many Republicans who represented swing districts avoided Mr. Bush in 2006 and 2008.

But Trippi says even unpopular presidents can lend a hand to House candidates just by being in the neighborhood. He cites recent visits by President Obama to Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio for "top-of-the-ticket" candidates. Each of these states features competitive House races nearby.

"That will have some spillover to a given House seat, even if he only increases the turnout by a point or two. That might be enough to win," said Trippi.

Trippi also points out that this is an anti-establishment year. And voters often misinterpret any show of power from "Inside the Beltway" on the hustings.

"One of the problems with having Air Force One come to the rescue is that it's Washington coming to the rescue," said Trippi. "If there were ever a year you don't want Washington coming to the rescue, this would be it."

Historically, the party that manages to "nationalize" a midterm election performs well. Republicans are trying to nationalize this election by connecting local House candidates to the president and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Trippi says keeping Washington out of the contests helps localize the elections.

Either way, Mr. Obama is still helping House candidates indirectly if not directly.

Over the next few days, the president travels to Minneapolis and San Francisco for fundraising events with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the national organization devoted to electing Democrats to the House of Representatives.

"The president has done a lot for the DCCC and we're appreciative of that," said a DCCC official who asked not to be named.