McLEAN, Va. -- President Barack Obama on Thursday told fellow Democrats that the nation needs governors who focus on long-term implications and avoid petty matters that mar politics, returning to campaign mode and reviving his election-season rhetoric. He then blamed Republicans for leaving behind an economic crisis.
Appearing at a fundraiser and rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh Deeds, Obama exhorted leaders who set aside a harshness that he said is all too common in politics. He told his northern Virginia audience that state leaders who practice pragmatism and cooperation can push through goals.
"We're going to make sure we don't have a southern Virginia and a northern Virginia, but that we have one commonwealth of Virginia," said Obama, revamping a line from the 2004 Democratic National Convention speech that put him on the national stage.
Appealing across party lines, Obama told the Democratic audience that leaders must listen to their opponents and disagree with civility. He pointed to Virginia's two most recent governors, Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, the former now a senator and the latter Obama's hand-picked Democratic National Committee chairman.
"We want to make sure that we listen to other people's ideas. We're going to bring labor and business together," he said.
"There is a tradition that is developing here," Obama said, painting Virginia as a model of political pragmatism. "We're all in this together."
The president and his political allies are also in it with Deeds. It is one of only two gubernatorial races in the country this year -- the other is in New Jersey -- and the results could be a viewed as a referendum on administration policies.
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Obama defended his handling of the economy and the $787 billion economic stimulus plan.
"There's been a lot of misinformation out there about the recovery plan," he said. "Just remember: One-third of it is going right into your pockets. That seems like well-spent money to me. ... I haven't raised your taxes; I've lowered your taxes."
He pointed to massive financial challenges and an exploding deficit.
"That was gift-wrapped and waiting for me," Obama said. "I don't want the folks who created the mess do a lot of talking. I want them to get out of the way so we can clean up the mess. I don't mind cleaning up after them, but don't do a lot of talking."
But it's against a backdrop of rising unemployment and fiscal challenges that Deeds faces a tough race with former Attorney General Bob McDonnell. He has been tapped by national Republicans to give the GOP radio address this week.
The once-reliably Republican state favored Obama in 2008, powered by his campaign's strong on-the-ground presence from volunteers and some of his strongest aides. But without Obama's organization, it's not clear the state will remain in Democrats' hands.
Obama made a nod toward the challenge: "This is going to be a tough race. This is not going to be easy."
Obama urged his supporters -- already in re-election mode with an eye toward 2012 -- to revive their campaign style to help Deeds.
With polls showing an unhappiness with lawmakers and an unease with Washington spending, McDonnell has been linking Deeds to Obama.
To donors, Deeds played to Obama's popular campaign slogan.
"Bob McDonnell has said, 'No, we can't,"' Deeds said, wrapping himself in the glow of Obama.
The White House has appealed to the nation's first elected black governor, Virginia's L. Douglas Wilder, to back Deeds. Wilder says he and Deeds would meet this week.
A strong turnout by black voters, who make up about one-fifth of the Virginia electorate, is critical for Democrats running statewide. In 2005, when Wilder refused to endorse Deeds against McDonnell in the race for attorney general, Deeds lost by 360 votes out of nearly 2 million cast, the closest statewide race ever in Virginia.