Eight days before midterm elections, embattled Democratic candidates cheered the release of billions in federal funds for high-speed rail projects from New Hampshire to California, saying they would help create jobs in their economically bruised states.
The Transportation Department notified lawmakers of the money on Monday and will make a formal announcement on Thursday. The timing of the announcement raised questions about whether the administration was trying to help some Democratic candidates.
The biggest winners of an estimated $2.5 billion pot of money were California and Florida, which have competitive governor, House and Senate races. But numerous other states scored as well.
California will get another $902 million to advance the design and construction of a high-speed rail system initially running from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The money is in addition to $2.25 billion in stimulus money that's headed to California for high-speed rail.
The Transportation Department also notified Florida lawmakers that the state had received an additional $800 million for high-speed rail.
Supporters are lauding the federal funding as a way to help revive the economy.
"This is a great announcement for California that will create jobs at a time that we really need them," said Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, who is engaged in a close re-election fight with Republican challenger Carly Fiorina. Fiorina also supports building high-speed rail in California.
While the Obama administration hopes the grant announcements will boost the chances of Democratic candidates, some Republicans candidates are charging in the opposition directions.
The administration used stimulus funding to jumpstart high-speed rail in several states earlier this year. But GOP candidates for governor in four of those states are opposed to, or want to delay their state's project. Objections came from California's Meg Whitman, Wisconsin's Scott Walker, Ohio's John Kasich, and Florida's Rick Scott.
Walker has created a website, notrain.com, opposed to the $810 million in federal stimulus money for high-speed rail service between Milwaukee and Madison.
"I am drawing a line in the sand Mr. President," Walker says in an open letter to Obama. "No matter how much money you and Governor (Jim) Doyle try to spend before the end of the year, I will put a stop to this boondoggle the day I take office."
Walker faces Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democrat, in the November election. Incumbent Jim Doyle, a Democrat, isn't seeking a third term.
It's not clear how a state would go about returning the money. GOP opposition prompted The Boston Globe to editorialize: "If they don't want it, we do."
California has led the effort nationally to build high-speed rail. In 2008, voters approved nearly $10 billion in bonds to develop 800 miles of high-speed rail. Most of the money from Monday's announcement will be targeted at the state's Central Valley _ a region that Fiorina has particularly focused on as she seeks to upset Boxer.
During a campaign stop Monday in Fresno, the heart of the Central Valley, Fiorina said she supported more investment in the region but said the timing of the announcement was political and designed to help Boxer. Recent polls show the Democratic incumbent's lead in the Senate race is shrinking.
New Hampshire is getting a much smaller share of the rail spending, but a similar political dynamic was at work. Rep. Paul Hodes announced the state would get more than $2 million to study a high-speed rail corridor from Boston to Nashua. Meanwhile, a spokesman for his opponent, Republican Kelly Ayotte, criticized the funding.
Hodes said the rail project is important to New Hampshire's economy.
"I think it's highly unlikely we would not want to move forward," he said.
In Iowa, Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley announced that $230 million will be designated for a new Amtrak route between Chicago and Iowa City through the Quad Cities. The new rail service is expected to increase business activity by $25 million per year.
"The Chicago to Iowa City route will create jobs and bring significant economic gains to Eastern Iowa," Braley said.
Associated Press writers Joan Lowy in Washington and Tom Verdin in Sacramento contributed to this report.