President Obama begins a 4-day western campaign swing today through Oregon, Washington, California and Nevada -- with a quick stop in Minnesota on the way home.
(First, a little inside-baseball - literally. I'm heading to Portland right now with about two dozen White House journalists. Usually we fly on a bare bones charter on domestic flights, but for some reason today we got lucky - this plane, with huge leather seats, is used by professional sports teams including the Diamondbacks, the A's, the Celtics -- LOTS of legroom -- and the Blackhawks. I'm told there was a pretty good on-board party after they won the Stanley Cup. For a brief moment, the nerds of the White House press corps are living like professional athletes. Then we woke up from our dream. )
Changing gears, all four states on this trip were pretty solidly blue in 2008, but this year there are plenty of key races hanging in the balance.
First stop is a campaign event tonight in Portland, Oregon where former Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber is battling to get his old job back. Then on to Seattle for a rally with Sen. Patty Murray on Thursday. The "mom in tennis shoes" is neck and neck with Republican Dino Rossi as they enter the final sprint. (Latest news on the race)
Next stop: Thursday night in San Francisco, where the Giants are scaring the you-know-what out of us Phillies fans, and where the president will raise money for California Democrats.
Then on to Los Angeles where the president will help get the vote out for Senator Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown, another former governor who wants his old job back. The White House hopes the rally, at USC, will draw the kind of huge, raucous crowd that greeted the president at the University of Wisconsin at Madison a few weeks ago (27,000) and at Ohio State this past Sunday (35,000).
They're holding these rallies on college campuses because polls show students are still behind the president, but without the name "Obama" on the ballot, many are expected to stay home on election day -- unless he can convince them it's worth rolling out of bed early to vote.
Of course it's not just students who need some firing up. Thefound that while the president's approval rating is 82 percent among those voted for him in 2008, 67 percent are less enthusiastic than they were two years ago.
That of course is yet another reflection of the enthusiasm gap. In an off-camera briefing yesterday senior advisor David Axelrod, the man the president relies on to follow the polling data, told us he's confident the gap is closing, and that the president's recent campaigning has a lot to do with it.
But whether the president is really making a difference is impossible to prove, and there are plenty of pundits who think his red-meat speeches to throngs of adoring liberals is turning off independent voters just as much as it's turning on the base.
But the White House has made a decision that getting the base to the polls is their last best chance, so they plan to put the president out there again and again. They're planning another big campaign swing for the long weekend before Election Day.
One possible concern: The president is already so hoarse from all that screaming that it sounds like it hurts. My guess is that come Election Day - and maybe before -- he'll have no voice left at all.
Chip Reid is CBS News' chief White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here.