PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — President Barack Obama on Thursday rallied for a Democrat to become Maine's next governor while keeping his distance from the state's bubbling controversy over its Ebola policies and a nurse who has defied them.
In a final-week burst of campaigning, Obama headlined a boisterous rally for Mike Michaud and other Maine Democrats on Tuesday's ballot. The six-term congressman is running to unseat Republican Gov. Paul LePage in a neck-and-neck race. Independent candidate Eliot Cutler is running a distant third.
"You have a chance to choose a governor that puts you first," Obama said of Michaud, praising what he said is the former state lawmaker's commitment to lifting up working-class people as well as to policies the president supports, such as a higher minimum wage, equality for women and access to health care.
"If you want something better, you have to vote for him," the president exhorted the crowd of about 3,000, which he at one point led in a chant of "We Like Mike."
Obama, who has been praising health care workers who have volunteered to fight Ebola in West Africa, had no plans to visit with Kaci Hickox, his spokesman said. The nurse is challenging her state's requirement that she isolate herself for 21 days.
Hickox worked in West Africa with Doctors Without Borders, returned to the U.S. last week and has shown no symptoms of the disease. She has been under what the state has called a voluntary quarantine in remote northern Maine, but on Thursday she went on bike ride with her boyfriend.
Obama has urged states to consider how their policies will affect the willingness of other doctors and nurses to volunteer for Ebola work in the afflicted nations of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
"We believe that those decisions should be driven by science but ultimately it's state and local officials that have the authority for implementing these policies," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday.
As for next Tuesday's elections, Democrats in Maine hoped Obama's visit so close to Election Day will help put Michaud over the top.
Michaud picked up a pre-Obama boost Wednesday with an endorsement from Angus King, Maine's independent U.S. senator. King originally had endorsed the independent, Cutler, but switched after Cutler said anyone who didn't believe he could win should vote for someone else.
Obama is the latest top Democrat to campaign for Michaud, following appearances by first lady Michelle Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
For the most part, the president has avoided appearing in public with Democratic candidates. He is unpopular in some states where competitive Senate races will help determine control in Congress for the two years Obama has left in office. Democrats have the Senate majority, but would lose it if Republicans gain six seats. Republican control of the House is expected to remain unchanged.
Instead, Obama has been aggressively raising money for Democratic candidates. Before Thursday's rally, he attended a Democratic National Committee fundraiser with about 25 supporters who gave $16,200 and more to attend the round-table event at the Cape Elizabeth home of Michaud supporters Bob Monks and Bonnie Porta. The event was closed to media coverage.
Obama is also being featured in new radio commercials for House races in Nevada and Arizona and a gubernatorial contest in Maryland.
"I know that sometimes politics can seem focused on small things. Middle class families need their leaders to do big things," he said in a commercial airing in Nevada. He added, "But your congressman, Steven Horsford, hasn't let Washington gridlock get in his way."
In another radio ad, Obama says "hello" and "goodbye" in Navajo, part of an appeal to tribal voters to support Democrats.
Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, facing a difficult re-election challenge from independent Greg Orman, vowed to prevent Obama from transferring terrorist suspects from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Obama has not recently mentioned Fort Leavenworth as a destination, but Roberts said Orman can't be trusted to stand up to the president. The fort is in eastern Kansas, not far from Kansas City.
Republican David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn each released new television advertisements as they pushed for a clear majority next Tuesday to avoid a Jan. 6 runoff.
Perdue's commercial seeks to link Nunn to Obama, who twice lost Georgia when he ran for the White House.
Nunn countered with a commercial in which she promised to be a pragmatic senator, and told voters her career has been about "living out her faith by trying to help others."
In Providence, Michelle Obama urged voters to "get it done" for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gina Raimondo, saying the race is close and Raimondo needs every vote.
The first lady is the second major Democrat to visit Rhode Island to campaign for Raimondo, the general treasurer, in the final days of her race against Republican Allan Fung. Hillary Clinton campaigned with Raimondo last week at Rhode Island College.
Republican Rep. Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is locked in a closer-than-expected race as Mayday PAC, a crowd-funded political action committee determined to reduce the influence of money in politics, is spending more than $2 million to defeat the 14-term incumbent.
Upton faces a challenge from Democrat Paul Clements. The Republican lawmaker won by 12 percentage points in 2012 and polls show he still remains popular in the Kalamazoo-based district.