KANSAS CITY, Mo. — President Barack Obama on Thursday cast upcoming elections as a choice between the party that caused the economic meltdown and the one that's fixing it, seizing on a populist, sharply partisan theme for the critical November midterms.
"We don't have to guess how the other party will govern because we're still living with the results from the last time they governed," Obama said at a fundraiser for Missouri Democratic Senate hopeful Robin Carnahan in Kansas City. "It's a choice between falling backward and moving forward."
Helped by recent gaffes by Republicans, Obama has arrived at the message he'll employ as he campaigns more frequently and aggressively around the country for Democratic candidates.
In the case of Carnahan, Missouri's secretary of state, Obama said she would support forward-looking policies while her likely opponent, GOP Rep. Roy Blunt, would drag the country backward. The two are contesting the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Kit Bond, and Carnahan represents a chance for a much-needed Democratic pickup.
Obama intended to sound the same themes at fundraisers later Thursday in Nevada for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Reid is in trouble in his bid for a fifth term, with joblessness sky-high in Nevada and a sitting president's party typically poised to lose congressional seats during midterm elections.
For both Democrats, Obama's newly honed message turned the man who pledged during his campaign to bridge partisan divides into a president who has begun playing into them.
For instance, the president repeated his attacks on Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, who had to apologize for apologizing to BP PLC, the primary owner of the blown-out well spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, and House Minority Leader John Boehner, who contends his metaphor likening the financial crisis to an "ant" is being twisted by Democrats.
Obama listed Republican policies he said led to economic disaster: lower taxes for millionaires and billionaires, fewer rules and regulations for the biggest corporations, and decisions that "cut working people loose."
"Pretty straightforward," he said.
Using a populist-themed refrain, he offer this description of the GOP approach: "You don't have health insurance? Tough luck, you're on your own. Can't afford to send your kids to college? Tough luck, on your own."
His jabs grew sharper as his remarks closed, saying Republicans care more about political points than "what it means for the next generation" and side with corporate titans over regular Americans.
"They don't think in terms of representing ordinary folks. That's not their orientation," Obama said. "So that's the choice we face in this election. We got the Bartons and the Boehners and the Blunts. They've got that 'no' philosophy, that "you're on your own" philosophy, that status quo philosophy."
As for Democrats, he said their policies were straightforward, too: cut taxes on the middle class, make sure big corporations are "playing by the same rules" as small businesses and invest in making sure people get the "skills for the future."
Republicans rejected Obama's rhetoric.
"Unemployment is near 10 percent. The American people continue to ask, where are the jobs? But the president keeps whining and indulging in childish partisan attacks," Boehner said in a statement. "How out of touch can he get?"
Obama has been trying to get voters to buy a message he himself acknowledges is a tough sell — that things would be a lot worse if last year's $862 billion stimulus bill hadn't been passed. Before the events for Carnahan, Obama spoke at a Kansas City electric car manufacturing plant that benefited from the stimulus bill. He plans additional remarks on the economy on Friday while in Nevada, at the University of Nevada.
Such pairing of official presidential events with campaign appearances has another benefit, too: it lets the White House bill the candidates' campaigns for far less of the president's travel costs, otherwise covered by taxpayers.
Reid is facing tea party-backed Sharron Angle, who was welcoming Obama with a reference to the kerfuffle the president caused in February when he asserted that people saving for college shouldn't "blow a bunch of cash on Vegas."
Angle also told a Las Vegas radio station this week that BP's $20 billion victims' compensation program is a "slush fund." At a White House meeting last month, Obama secured a $20 billion commitment from BP to compensate people whose livelihoods are being affected by the spill and to clean up the Gulf. Angle said Obama strong-armed BP executives into setting up the fund.
As Democrats pounced on her Thursday, Angle quickly issued a statement to clarify the comment. "I shouldn't have used the term 'slush fund'; that was incorrect," she said.
Obama is to appear at a reception and dinner for Reid that are expected to reap about $800,000. His appearances for Carnahan were expected to raise more than $500,000.