Washington: Less than three weeks before key mid-term elections, US President Barack Obama on Wednesday finally hits the campaign trail, an event signaling a delicate balancing act for his Democratic party.
Until now, Obama -- whose popularity has been on the wane for some time, leading vulnerable Democrats to keep their distance -- has worked on the campaign sidelines to raise funds for the party.
But on Wednesday, he will stump in Bridgeport for incumbent governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut, a northeastern state that Obama won easily in both 2008 and 2012, with 60 and 58 percent of the vote, respectively.
Nearly six years after his arrival at the White House, Obama`s approval rating is at its lowest point ever, hovering at about 40 percent for several months.
For Malloy, who is facing a tough re-election battle against Republican challenger Tom Foley, asking Obama to appear at the rally is a calculated risk.
In 2010, Malloy won by a slim margin -- less than 7,000 votes, out of more than one million ballots cast.
For Obama, who is trying to keep the Republicans from winning control of the Senate next month, the equation is somewhat complicated.
The 44th US president must try to defend his record without turning the legislative and local elections into a referendum on his administration.
Early this month, when Obama said that all of his policies would be "on the ballot" on November 4, numerous Democrats raised an eyebrow.
"It was a mistake," his former top aide David Axelrod admitted.
No one in Obama`s Democratic party would go so far as to directly criticize the Nobel peace laureate. But the unease is palpable in several states where even linking a candidate to the president is seen as a handicap, not an asset.In Kentucky, the situation has veered toward the absurd: Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is trying to unseat minority leader Mitch McConnell, won`t even say if she voted for Obama.
In a televised debate Monday night, she hemmed and hawed on the question once again, defending her "constitutional right" to privacy in the voting booth.
McConnell, a veteran Washington insider who has been in office for 30 years, hammered the nail in, saying he had no problem admitting he voted for John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012.
Grimes also called herself a "Clinton Democrat," lauding the achievements of the former president -- apparently less risky than name-checking the current one.
When asked about the situation, White House spokesman Josh Earnest skirted the issue, saying: "I`ll tell you that I voted for the president."Since his re-election in 2012, Obama has attended nearly 100 Democratic Party fundraisers, but has remained mum on his future campaign activities in the run-up to November 4.
Earnest, cautious on the issue, says Obama will take part in other campaign rallies when he can be "helpful to candidates."
For now, Obama encourages Democrats whenever he can to make sure they don`t fall victim to the party`s Achilles heel: low turnout.
"There`s a congenital problem that we have as Democrats, and that is, in non-presidential elections, in midterm elections -- we don`t vote," he told party faithful at the weekend in San Francisco.
"We`ve got to mobilize, we`ve got to organize. We`ve got to knock on doors. We`ve got to make phone calls."
In Connecticut, the Republican camp says it`s not particularly concerned about the impact of Obama`s visit.
"Dan Malloy can bring whoever he wants to Connecticut -- it won`t change anything," said Foley`s spokesman Mark McNulty.
"This race is about one thing -- Dan Malloy`s failed record as governor including the largest tax increase in state history and the most anemic recession recovery in the country with respect to jobs and economic growth."