By Josh Lederman ,AP
CHICAGO — U.S. President Barack Obama marched on the campaign trail for the first time this year, accusing Republicans of peddling fear and recycled ideas as he rallied for two Democratic gubernatorial candidates.
Although Obama has raised money for Democrats this year at a feverish pace, he’s stayed away from appearing in public with candidates �X due in large part to his sagging approval ratings in key states. Obama will rally in the coming weeks for another half-dozen Democratic candidates for governor, but is not venturing into the conservative-leaning states where Democrats are fighting their toughest Senate races.
Control of the Senate is the biggest political prize in the Nov. 4 elections, with Republicans needing only to win six seats to take a majority. Since the Republicans are certain to keep control of the House, winning the Senate will give them huge power to block Obama’s legislative agenda for the last two years of his term.
Returning to the accepting embrace of his home state of Illinois, Obama told voters that Republicans mean well, but ��just have bad ideas.�� He accused the Republicans of recycling those ideas over and over, urging voters to take their future into their own hands by showing up Nov. 4 �X and electing Democrats.
��The power to move our society, our government, it really is in your hands,�� Obama said during a rally for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn that doubled as a homecoming for the president, a former Illinois senator.
Earlier, rally in Maryland’s Upper Marlboro, just east of Washington, marked Obama’s first major foray into the midterm elections. Obama was supposed to rally last week in Connecticut for Gov. Dannel Malloy, but postponed that visit to focus on Ebola.
In front of a rowdy crowd of about 8,000 people �X plus an overflow crowd in a gym next-door �X Obama championed gubernatorial candidate Anthony Brown during a rally that echoed many of the same themes as Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns.
��The Republican Party can keep telling you what they’re against,�� Obama said, riffing off a long list: affordable health care, immigration reform, action on climate change, to name a few. ��But the good news is Democrats keep telling you what things we’re for. And the things we’re for are things that will help working families.��
Though limited in his ability to help his party this year, Obama has sought to use his own policies to frame an economic message that can lift up Democratic candidates across the country. In Maryland, Democrats seized on Obama’s call to raise the federal minimum wage by raising their state minimum wage this year despite the refusal in Congress to take that step. In radio ads and other appearances, Obama has also sought to rev up the same voting blocs that helped elect him twice �X including minorities, women and young people �X in hopes they’ll show up this year even without Obama on the ballot.
Making his pitch in person, Obama said that every time Republican leaders have had to take a stand on middle-class issues, they’ve said no.
��They said no to minimum wage. They said no to fair pay. Think about that,�� Obama said incredulously. ��Why would you say no to women getting paid the same as men for doing the same job?��
Brown has held a healthy lead over his Republican opponent, businessman Larry Hogan.
Support for Obama still runs high in Democratic-leaning Maryland �X and especially here in Prince George’s County, Brown’s home base. Roughly 65 percent of the county’s population is African American, and roughly 9 in 10 voters here backed Obama in 2008. Just next to the public high school gymnasium where Obama held his rally sits Barack Obama Elementary School. Currently Maryland’s lieutenant governor, Brown would become Maryland’s first black governor if elected.