Vice President Joe Biden praised Missouri Democrat Robin Carnahan on Thursday as a gritty U.S. Senate candidate unlikely to buckle to others, and helped her raise an estimated $100,000 in the hometown of her Republican rival.
The fundraiser marked the second time in three months that President Barack Obama's administration has come to the financial aid of Carnahan's campaign. But unlike the prior event with Obama in Kansas City, the White House barred cameras from Biden's fundraiser at an exclusive diner club in Springfield and scheduled no other public events while he was in Missouri.
Carnahan's Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, held a public rally a few miles away that drew about 100 people.
Polls show Carnahan, Missouri's secretary of state, trailing Blunt in the race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Kit Bond ahead of the Nov. 2 elections. Democrats have been mounting a vigorous effort in Missouri, which they consider one of their best shots to pick up a Republican-held seat and offset the expected loss of Democratic Senate seats elsewhere.
"The reports of the death of the Democratic Party are greatly exaggerated," Biden said, playing off a famous quote from Missourian Mark Twain.
Carnahan has "more grit and backbone in her little finger than most people have in their whole body," Biden told the roughly 170 people at the fundraiser. "I can't imagine her bending to anything."
Biden's message was similar to Obama's remarks in July, when the president praised Carnahan as a "no-nonsense, independent" leader. Obama said he could have passed an overhaul of federal financial regulations sooner had Carnahan been in Washington.
Blunt has used video of Obama's remarks in campaign ads against Carnahan, linking her to Obama's policies and trying to capitalize on the president's unpopularity in Missouri. At a rally Thursday at the local Republican Party headquarters, Blunt played up the fact that cameras were welcome at his event and reminded people of Obama's earlier remarks.
"He knows I'm not going to be the vote for that agenda," Blunt said.
Obama, who lost Missouri with 49 percent of the vote in 2008, got just 41 percent in Springfield's home of Greene County.
A poll released Wednesday by CNN/Time/Opinion Research Corp. showed Blunt leading Carnahan 53 percent to 40 percent among likely voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The poll also showed that 61 percent of likely Missouri voters disapproved of the way Obama was handling his job as president.
That might explain why Biden did not appear publicly with Carnahan, said George Connor, head of the political science department at Missouri State University in Springfield.
"Any public appearance with Biden and Robin here in Springfield is just pouring kerosene on an inflammable situation with respect to the Republican base here," Connor said.
But he noted that "there are enough wealthy Democratic donors in southwest Missouri that they can come together for a private event."
Among those attending the Biden fundraiser were Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and Carnahan's mother, former U.S. Sen. Jean Carnahan.
She said the event was important not only because of the money, but also because of the vice president's ability to excite Democrats a few weeks before the election.
But some at the event expressed concerns about whether Biden's ties to Carnahan ultimately would help or hurt her chances in southwest Missouri, which typically favors Republicans.
"I don't want this to be the case, but based on what I hear at the doors (while campaigning), they want a separation from Washington," said state Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield.
Carnahan told The Associated Press that Biden's aid is an indication that the White House knows what's at stake in Missouri's Senate race.
"Congressman Blunt wants to do everything he can to pretend this election is about someone other than me," Carnahan said. "He'd like it to be about President Obama or (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi or anyone. But he gets to run against me."