CLEVELAND – President Barack Obama made Ohio his final campaign stop Sunday in the tumultuous midterm elections, trying to help hard-pressed Democrats in a state that could prove crucial to his fortunes in two years.
Republicans said it was too little and too late, confident their party will pick up more than 40 House seats and regain the majority they lost four years ago. Republican control of the Senate seems less likely, although they expect to gain several seats there, as well as numerous governors' seats.
Obama, bracing for perhaps one of the biggest midterm setbacks in recent times, made a four-state weekend sprint to help embattled Democrats as best he can. He said their chances are good if their supporters turn out heavily on Tuesday.
But Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee, predicted voters will send a sobering message: "You blew it, President Obama. We gave you the two years to fulfill your promise of making sure that our economy starts roaring back to life again."
As he did in three other states this weekend, the president implored voters in Ohio to recall how poorly the Republicans handled the economy when they were in control, and to give Democrats more time.
"It's up to you to remember that this election is a choice between the policies that got us into this mess and the policies that are leading us out of this mess," he told about 8,000 people at Cleveland State University.
Obama said Republicans would return to policies that cut taxes for billionaires, cut regulations for special interests and "cut loose" middle-class families to fend for themselves.
But Republicans see Tuesday's vote shaping up as a stern public rejection of two more years of Democratic control on Capitol Hill.
"What the American people are looking at and they're saying is, 'The Obama policies aren't working. We need new policies, we need an economic-growth agenda,'" said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican Governors Association. "If Republicans win, that's what it will be, a repudiation of Obama's policies."
Obama carried Ohio easily in 2008, and Democrats once had high hopes of re-electing Gov. Ted Strickland this year and taking the Senate seat being vacated by Republican George Voinovich. But with the recession barely losing its grip in the state, and the president's approval ratings sagging, Democrats have all but given up on the Senate race and are desperate to save Strickland and several imperiled House members.
Obama campaigned Saturday in Philadelphia, Connecticut and Chicago. All are generally friendly locations for Democrats, and the White House strategy is to fire up core voters who may feel despondent in this GOP-trending year.
In Portland, Maine, former President Bill Clinton campaigned again Sunday for Democrat Libby Mitchell as she and four other candidates for governor ramped up their get-out-the-vote efforts. It was Clinton's second stop in Maine in five weeks to help Mitchell, who's sagging in polls to third in the five-way race, behind Republican front-runner Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler.
Alaska is perhaps the most unsettled state politically this weekend, and Democrats say it's conceivable they could score an upset Senate win there. With GOP nominee Joe Miller stumbling badly, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski making a rare write-in effort after losing the primary to Miller, little-noticed Democrat Scott McAdams might find a way to sneak through to victory.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has poured more than $160,000 into the once-ignored race.
"We believe that Scott McAdams actually has a real chance of winning this race," committee chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said Sunday.
In Ohio, a Strickland loss to Republican John Kasich would have many ramifications beyond the state. Ohio will lose two House seats because of the 2010 census, and its governor will help oversee a redistricting process that may be fiercely partisan. Governors also can direct substantial political resources to the presidential contender of their choice.
Should Obama lose Ohio in 2012, it would make it all the more important for him to win other highly contested states such as Pennsylvania and Florida.
Strickland underlined the symbolic importance of Ohio, telling the Cleveland audience that the state is "a microcosm of America."
Illinois is the largest recipient of last-minute money for get-out-the-vote efforts from the Democratic National Committee, and Ohio is fourth. Of the nearly $2.7 million being transferred to state parties, $950,000 went to Illinois, $470,000 to Florida, $325,000 to Pennsylvania and $300,000 to Ohio.
The DNC aired a new ad featuring Obama that warns of record cuts in education and rollbacks in financial accountability if Republicans take control of Congress.
Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele dismissed concerns of government gridlock if GOP lawmakers refuse to compromise with Democrats on issues such as deficit spending and taxation.
"With the Republican majority in the House or Senate or, hopefully, both, we're not going to compromise on those things," Steele said.
In many races, large numbers of voters have made their choices. In Ohio, where Democrats could lose up to six House seats, more than 721,000 votes have been cast. California officials already had in hand almost 2.5 million ballots, and Florida officials had almost 1.7 million.
More than 13.5 million votes had been cast early, either at ballot boxes that opened early or by mail. Four years ago, during the last nonpresidential election, some 19 million people voted before Election Day.
Kaine and Barbour appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press." Palin was on "Fox News Sunday," while Steele was on CNN's "State of the Union."