(NORFOLK, Va.) In a last-ditch, against-the-odds effort to help Creigh Deeds win election as governor of Virginia next week, President Obama invoked the assistance of "Cousin Pookie."
Addressing a campaign rally for Deeds at an arena at Old Dominion University, Mr. Obama used a device that served him well during his presidential campaign – especially before African-American audiences.
"Go out and get your cousin who you had to drag to the polls last November, Cousin Pookie, you go out and get him and you tell him 'you got to vote again this time.'"
African-American voters in Virginia helped Mr. Obama become the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since 1964. And he clearly hoped the "Pookie" appeal might work for Deeds, now running 11 points behind Republican opponent Bob McDonnell in the latest Washington Post poll.
Initially the White House thought Deeds would have an easier time in a state that Mr. Obama won and that also has two Democratic senators: Jim Webb and Mark Warner, and an outgoing Democratic governor, Tim Kaine, who also serves as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Deeds Seeks Final Week Surge
But on the flight to Norfolk aboard Air Force One, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Virginia should not be seen as a blue state. He said it's "probably as purple as it can get," given its long-time presence in the "red column for so long."
White House aides concede Deeds has been outspent and out-campaigned by McDonnell, who resigned as Virginia's attorney general to run for governor.
Mr. Obama even kidded Deeds at the rally, saying he "may not be perfect."He joked that his tie may occasionally be askew and his hair mussed, in comparison to the made-for-TV good looks of opponent McDonnell.
"But is that what the people of Virginia are looking for," asked the president. "Are you looking for slick – or are you looking for somebody who's going to be fighting for you?"
Virginia and New Jersey are the two states electing governors this year. And the White House does not want the results to be portrayed as a referendum on Mr. Obama should the Democratic candidates be defeated.
Gibbs was already making the argument here in Virginia, by pointing to a poll that showed "70 percent of the people believe that they were not making a decision on their vote based on the president."
Gibbs said today's rally was the final campaign appearance Mr. Obama would be making for Deeds, but would campaign once again in New Jersey for Gov. Jon Corzine, the incumbent Democrat seeking re-election to a second term.
As for Virginia, Mr. Obama called it "a tough race" in the context of "a tough economy" – a tacit acknowledgement that even "Cousin Pookie" might not turn it around for Creigh Deeds.
Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/markknoller.