WOONSOCKET, R.I. – President Barack Obama attacked Republicans with gusto Monday as he plunged into a final week of midterm election campaigning, but his party's prognosis remained darkened by the feeble economy and his itinerary was designed largely to minimize losses.
Nor was his greeting totally friendly in Rhode Island where Obama has pointedly declined to endorse his party's candidate for governor.
Obama can "take his endorsement and shove it," declared Democrat Frank Caprio, battling Republican-turned-independent Lincoln Chafee in a gubernatorial race rated tight in the polls. Chafee endorsed Obama during the 2008 campaign for the White House.
In a little more than five hours in the state, Obama was booked for a factory tour and for a pair of fundraisers that party officials said would bring in $500,000.
He said Republicans had driven the economy into a ditch and then stood by and criticized while Democrats pulled it out. Now that progress has been made, he said, "we can't have special interests sitting shotgun. We gotta have middle class families up in front. We don't mind the Republicans joining us. They can come for the ride, but they gotta sit in back."
Democrats relied on more than the president's time to boost their chances in the final days of the campaign. There was the matter of federal funds, too, in the form of hundreds of millions in grants announced during the day to provide high speed rail service in California, between Chicago and Iowa, and elsewhere. Administration officials left it to Democratic lawmakers to make the announcements, and they did, stressing the job-creating potential of the expansions.
Eight days before the election, the principal uncertainty concerned the size and scope of anticipated Democratic losses in the House, the Senate, governor's races and state legislatures.
An Associated Press-GfK Poll showed that perhaps one-third of all voters have yet to firmly settle on their choices. But that wasn't encouraging for the Democrats, either. Some 45 percent of them prefer the Republican candidate for the House, and 38 percent like the Democrat.
The president arrived as official figures showed more than 6.5 million ballots already have been cast in the 25 states where early voting is permitted or where absentees have been counted, underscoring the importance of get-out-the-vote programs that now begin long before Election Day.
Democrats have invested heavily in such efforts and are counting on them to help tip close races their way in states like Nevada, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid faces tea party-backed challenger Sharron Angle. Republicans are counting on campaign enthusiasm — polls agree their voters are more eager to cast ballots than Democrats — as well as their own get-out-the-vote efforts.
Even Democrats concede Republicans are poised for significant gains in Congress, and GOP officials are particularly optimistic about their chances for taking control of the House.
Based on opinion polls and the private assessments of strategists in both parties, it appears Republicans have effectively secured about two dozen of the 40 seats they need to win control of the House.
That leaves dozens of seats where races are competitive in the House and a half-dozen or so in the Senate. Republicans also look for statehouse gains.
Obama's choice of Rhode Island for his one-day trip was partially to raise money for Democratic House candidates elsewhere in the country. Officials said the $500,000 would be split between Providence Mayor David Cicilline, who is running for the House, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
The state has two House seats, one held by Democratic Rep. James Langevin, an incumbent in no apparent difficulty; the other being vacated by Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy. There, Cicilline is running against Republican John Loughlin in a heavily Democratic state.
The state's unemployment is measured at 11.5 percent, the fourth highest in the country. In his first stop, the president visited a company that makes buckles and straps for outdoor and travel gear, saying he and the Democrats in Congress have cut small business taxes 16 times in 20 months. Republicans "talk a good game" when it comes to tax cuts, he said, but in fact they opposed several bills he labored to get passed.
"It's not enough to just play politics," he said. "You can't focus on the next election. You've got to focus on the next generation."
Caprio called Obama's rebuff "Washington insider politics at its worst." Rhode Island's congressional delegation expressed disapproval about Caprio's remarks, but the executive director of the Democratic Governors Association said the president's decision was disappointing.
"Frank Caprio has spent his career fighting for the values of the Democratic Party. He deserves the full support of our party and its leaders," said executive director Nathan Daschle.
If anything, the White House made it clearer that Caprio will not get Obama's endorsement. "Out of respect for his friend Lincoln Chafee, the president decided not to get involved in this race," said White House spokesman Bill Burton. It was the first time the White House had cited Chafee as the reason for Obama's non-endorsement of a Democrat.
White House aides also arranged for Obama to tour a factory as part of a campaign-long effort to showcase efforts by his administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress to assist small businesses. In a conference call to reporters on Sunday night, they said American Cord & Webbing had been able to hire back all of the employees laid off last year and was planning on hiring more. They said the company won approval from the Small Business Administration last month for a loan to make possible an expansion of the facility.
Coast to coast, the multimillion-dollar ad war continued unabated.
The Republican Senate campaign committee announced it would put $3 million into a final-week fleet of ads designed to help Carly Fiorina defeat Sen. Barbara Boxer in a California race that is close in the polls.
Democrats hastened to Reid's side in Nevada. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., became the latest lawmaker to send out an urgent e-mail fundraising appeal for the top Democrat.
It said the same wealthy Texans who attacked his Vietnam War record during the 2004 presidential campaign were now aiming at Reid. "These guys will say anything and spend anything to get what they want," Kerry wrote.
Obama was returning to the White House for a few days before resuming campaigning at week's end. His itinerary then will include Bridgeport, Conn., where party officials are hoping he can mobilize African-Americans whose votes are needed in races for the Senate and governor, as well as a re-election bid by Democratic Rep. Jim Himes.
Obama also will campaign in Pennsylvania, where polls show Rep. Joe Sestak in a close race with Republican Pat Toomey — for a Senate seat that Democrats currently hold. Similarly, there are numerous Democratic-held House seats in the state that Obama is working to hold.
Later stops are in Ohio, where Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland is struggling to win a new term against Republican challenger John Kasich, and the president's home state of Illinois, where polls show both a Senate seat and the governor's office are in danger of falling to the Republicans.