MILWAUKEE (AP) — Rallying the party faithful, President Barack Obama cast Republican Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday as an outdated Republican holding back Wisconsin's economy as he launched a final, weeklong campaign push for Democrats.
At a packed gymnasium, Obama held up Democrat Mary Burke as a skilled businesswoman who will fight for the type of middle-class opportunity that made his own success possible. Although Democrats hoped Obama's appearance with Burke would help put her over the top in next week's tight race, Republicans confidently predicted Obama would have just the opposite effect.
Riffing on health care, the minimum wage and women's issues, Obama steered clear of referring directly to Walker, instead lumping him together with a Republican Party he accused of pushing antiquated and failed policies — such as opposition to fair pay legislation backed by Democrats.
"It don't make no sense," the president said.
"We need to strengthen the middle class for the 21st century. That means we need leaders from the 21st century who actually believe women should get paid the same as men," Obama said to cheers and laughter.
Defeating Walker, a potential 2016 presidential contender and nemesis of labor unions, would be a major coup for Democrats that could help boost the party's morale in a rocky political season. Democrats are still bruised from a failed 2012 effort to recall Walker. This year, polls show the race deadlocked between Walker and Burke, with very few voters undecided.
"The eyes of the country are on us," Burke said as she introduced the president.
Obama has been a rare sight on the campaign trail this year — he made his first appearances just over a week ago — in large part due to low approval ratings that make him a potential liability for Democrats.
Even the setting for Obama's rally — a high school in a mostly black part of Milwaukee — served as a reminder of how limited Obama's appeal has become, both in geography and demographics. Only seven voters in the ward where Obama held his rally voted for someone other than Obama in 2012, records show.
Still, the White House hopes Obama can help turn out high numbers of voters who backed his own presidential campaigns — chief among them African-Americans, Hispanics, young people and women.
"The country as a whole is doing better. Wisconsin's not doing so good," Obama said. "Over the next week, you have a chance to change that. You have a chance to choose a governor who doesn't put political ideology first."
The rally before 3,500 people, including former "West Wing" actor Bradley Whitford, opened a week of last-minute campaigning by Obama. He plans to travel to Michigan, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Pennsylvania — all states where Democrats are optimistic about the governor's races, in contrast to the party's gloomy expectations for the Senate. Obama only has plans to campaign with one Senate candidate — Michigan Rep. Gary Peters.
But even in Wisconsin, Obama's ability to fire up Democrats without driving up GOP turnout was in question. Joe Fadness, head of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, said Obama's appearance with Burke would remind voters that Obama's economic policies are on the ballot on Election Day.
"Wisconsin can't afford a governor who will walk lock-step with President Obama and his failed policies that have hurt our country and would take Wisconsin backward," Fadness said.
Before arriving at the rally, Obama headed to a chic downtown sushi joint, where he met privately with about 25 donors who gave $16,200 and up to the Democratic National Committee.
Associated Press writer M.L. Johnson contributed to this report.
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