Virginia - U.S. President Barack Obama threw himself into the role of campaigner in chief on Wednesday, making appeals for Democratic candidates in two state governor races that some see as a referendum on his performance in the White House.
Obama was to travel to New Jersey for a rally on behalf of Jon Corzine, who is locked in a tight race to remain governor of the heavily Democratic state.
The president also appeared in an ad released on Wednesday for Creigh Deeds, who trails by double digits in his bid to become the third consecutive Democratic governor of Virginia, a state that backed Obama in the 2008 presidential election but is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.
Obama will travel to Norfolk, Virginia, next Tuesday for his second campaign rally for Deeds.
I need every one of you to get fired up once again so that we can go toward the future, with Creigh Deeds leading the great Commonwealth of Virginia, Obama says in the ad, which uses a speech he made at his first appearance for Deeds.
Analysts said New Jersey and Virginia, the only governors' seats up for grabs this year, could influence Obama policy priorities like his efforts to reform the U.S. healthcare system and regulation of financial markets.
Defeat for Deeds and Corzine on November 3 could convince more moderate legislators that support for Democrats has weakened since Obama's election victory last November and keep them from backing efforts like the healthcare overhaul, which opponents have charged is too expensive.
NEW JERSEY RACE SEEN AS MORE LOCAL
The race in heavily Democratic New Jersey reflects more the struggles of an unpopular incumbent than the national political mood and will be decided on Corzine's handling of issues such as the state's high property taxes, analysts said.
Corzine, a former executive with investment firm Goldman Sachs, is locked in a tight re-election battle with Republican Christopher Christie, who has clung to a small poll lead despite appearances by Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
Former Democratic President Bill Clinton has also campaigned for both Corzine and Deeds.
The Virginia race is seen as more of a referendum on national issues such as the economy and healthcare.
Republican Bob McDonnell leads Deeds by 52 percent to 40 percent, according to a poll of 666 Virginia voters released on Wednesday by Public Policy Polling. McDonnell had led Deeds by just 48 percent to 43 percent in its previous survey, conducted three weeks earlier.
Creigh Deeds is in a pretty dire position right now, said Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling.
Democrats aren't very enthusiastic about this election. He has to hope that visits on his behalf from folks like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton get a lot more of the party's base out to the polls.
A Quinnipiac University poll conducted on October 7-12 gave Christie 41 percent of the vote against 40 percent for Corzine and 14 percent for independent candidate Chris Daggett.
That compares with a four-point lead for Christie in the previous Quinnipiac poll and bigger advantages for Christie in other polls over recent months.
The race has been so negative that Corzine ran a TV ad this week that appeared to mock the portly Christie for his weight.
Democrats now hold 28 governorships in the 50 states, including New Jersey and Virginia, while Republicans have 22.
In Virginia, incumbent Democratic Governor Tim Kaine cannot run because of term limits. Kaine's predecessor and fellow Democrat Mark Warner is now one of the state's two U.S. senators.
New Jersey has not elected a Republican governor since Christine Todd Whitman in 1994.
(Editing by David Alexander and John O'Callaghan)