Embracing a President, carefully

On a day when his once-safe race was downgraded by a political handicapper to a “toss up,” U. S. Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal had the delicate task of thanking a fellow Democrat who came to raise needed dollars, while maintaining some distance.

That’s not easy when the visitor is the president.

Blumenthal welcomed Barack Obama to Stamford tonight for a fundraiser, yet politely warned the president “on some occasions we may disagree.”


President Obama, Richard Blumenthal. AP pool photo

Together, Obama and Blumenthal entered the ballroom of the Stamford Marriott, smiling and waving to a crowd of more than 300 supporters, most of whom paid at least $1,000. Obama later dined with move director Ron Howard and 50 others at a $30,400-a-plate dinner in Greenwich.

Blumenthal thanked the president for coming to energize Democrats and raise money to help counter what he called the “$50-million attack machine” of his self-financed opponent, Republican Linda McMahon.

“My opponent thinks she can buy this election, but we know, we know, the people of Connecticut want an election, not an auction,” Blumenthal said.

The president joked about McMahon’s background as the former chief executive of World Wrestling Entertainment, noting she has promised to apply a “smack down” to Washington.

He laughed along with the audience, then grew serious.

“But the truth is — and Dick understands this — public service is not a game,” Obama said. “At this moment, we are facing challenges we haven’t seen since the Great Depression. And facing serious challenges requires serious leaders — leaders who are willing to take on the status quo; leaders who are willing to take on special interests; leaders who are willing to fight for our people and our future. And Dick Blumenthal is that leader.”

Obama’s visit came as the Cook Report changed its view of the race from “leans Democrat” to a toss up, a reaction to McMahon trailing among likely voters by just 6 percentage points in a new Quinnipiac poll. The seat is now held by Democrat Christopher J. Dodd, who is retiring after 30 years in the Senate.

The same survey showed Obama’s approval rating in Connecticut, a state he carried with 61 percent of the vote in 2008, dropping to 45 percent. The poll did not keep other Democratic candidates away, even though the statewide ticket originally was not invited.

“The White House called me and invited me, and I’m very happy to be here,” said Dan Malloy, the Democratic nominee for governor, who arrived with his running mate, Nancy Wyman. Malloy also attended the dinner in Greenwich.

Malloy, the former mayor of Stamford, warmed up the crowd as Obama and Blumenthal met with major donors, who paid extra to meet and pose for pictures with the president.

Earlier in the day, Republican State Chairman Chris Healy described the presidential visit as “a mission of mercy for Dick Blumenthal.”

The Stamford fundraiser was expected to raise $400,000 to be split between the Blumenthal campaign and the state Democratic Party. The Greenwich dinner at the home of real-estate investor Richard Richman was expected to raise more than $1 million for the Democratic National Committee.

Guests at the DNC fundraiser included former NBC journalist Jane Pauley and her husband, Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau. Tim Kaine, the Democratic national chairman, also attended. Richman’s $16 million, 13,000-square foot home is in the same gated community where McMahon lives.

If Cook views the Senate race as a toss up, Obama told his Stamford audience the choice should be easy.

“Now, Connecticut, let’s face it, this decision in this election should be a no-brainer,” Obama said, laughing. Right?”

The audience applauded.

‘I mean, it should be. Should be a no-brainer. Here you’ve got a man who’s been fighting for the people of Connecticut since the day he walked into the attorney general’s office,” Obama said. “He’s got the record to prove it.”

Obama used a familiar metaphor to describe the Republicans whom he says have tried to thwart his administration’s efforts to stabilize the economy.

“These folks spent a decade driving our economy into a ditch. And as soon as we took office, we put on our boots. We climbed down into the ditch. It was muddy down there. It was dusty. Bugs,” Obama said, a hint of a smile on his face.

The crowd laughed.

“And we’re pushing on the car, and we’re trying to get it out, and slipping and sliding. And the whole time the Republicans are standing there, sipping on a Slurpee,” he said. “Just watching us, saying, ‘You’re not pushing hard enough. You’re not pushing the right way.’ “

Obama acknowledged an angry electorate.

“This is a tough election season. People are hurting and they are understandably frustrated. And a lot of them are scared. And a lot of them are anxious,” Obama said.

“And that means that even when people don’t have ideas, if they’ve got enough money behind them, they may be able to convince some folks that, you know what, just cast a protest vote, throw the bums out. That’s a mentality that has an appeal.

“And you can’t blame folks for feeling that way sometime. But that’s not a future for our country, a country that’s more divided, that’s more unequal, that’s less dynamic, where we’re falling behind in everything from investment in infrastructure to investment in R&D. That’s not a vision for the future.”

Blumenthal seemed unconcerned about giving McMahon an opportunity for a photograph of him with an unpopular president to use in a campaign ad.

As the president finished speaking, Blumenthal approached him, clapped him on the back and said, “Great job.”