HOLMDEL, N.J. - President Obama shed his suit jacket and rolled up one shirtsleeve and then the other as he turned yesterday to the work of driving home the message that his hope-and-change train needs a Democratic Gov. Corzine aboard in New Jersey.
At the outset of his visit, Obama took Corzine's hand and turned the gesture into a warm embrace.
Then, speaking to an enthusiastic capacity crowd of 17,500 at the PNC Bank Arts Center, Obama said, "I want you to know I'm proud to stand with a man who wakes up every day thinking of your future and the future of Jersey and that's Gov. Jon Corzine. This is a man who is here because he cares about what is right for New Jersey."
Obama's stump speech for Corzine was marked by frequent and almost deafening cheers and shouts of approval.
The president recited the governor's argument for reelection, saying Corzine had provided property-tax relief, cut the size of government, expanded health care for children, and invested in education. That seemed to sit well with Corzine, who beamed an almost constant smile as he took in the endorsement.
It was Obama's first visit to New Jersey as president.
The rally yesterday provided a much-needed injection of hope into a campaign where a sitting blue-state governor has been trailing a lesser-known Republican in the polls since last summer.
Corzine worked hard to push the idea that Obama's success was tied to his own. Several times he noted that they were linked, saying, "Now, with a partner in the White House, there is no limit to what we can accomplish." Sounding a lot like his guest, he said, "Americans have never failed to turn crisis into renewal. This is our time of renewal and we will succeed."
Obama also took care of some of his own business, speaking about the health-care package he is trying to get through Congress.
But the president spent most of his nearly 30-minute speech talking about Corzine. In addition to praising the governor's agenda, he noted that Corzine was being "tested by the worst recession in half a century," which he blamed on "years of recklessness and irresponsibility."
The crowd took it all in eagerly, though many had been in the scorching sun for hours. They began gathering around 11 a.m. as more than 100 school buses unloaded scores at the arena. Those not standing in a seemingly endless ticket line amused themselves by walking around the parking lot and lawn, listening to the Michael Jackson songs blaring from the speaker system.
"We're here to support our governor," Stephanie Delke of Asbury Park said. "And also catch a glimpse of the president."
Others were there for Obama.
"This is a good gimmick to get us to listen to Corzine," said Chris Monroe of Roselle.
"State workers like me are upset with Corzine because of the furlough situation," said Monroe, who works for the Division of Youth and Family Services. To cut his budget, Corzine furloughed state workers.
"I'm iffy on Corzine, but I find Christie pretty repulsive," Sara Tofighbakash, 19, a Rutgers University sophomore, said of Republican gubernatorial candidate Christopher J. Christie. "A lot of Rutgers students are upset with Corzine because of the tuition hike."
Raafe Islam, 23, of Tinton Falls, said the president's endorsement probably wouldn't sway his vote toward Corzine.
"I'm here mostly for Obama," he said.
The president's warm embrace of Corzine will have to be worked a bit.
A Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll released yesterday morning showed that few respondents connected Corzine with Obama and that the president's visit might not help the governor's sagging approval ratings.
Polling director Patrick Murray said 70 percent of the 792 registered voters polled between July 9 and 14 responded that even if the president campaigned with the governor, it would have no effect on their vote. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. In the "beauty pageant" section of the poll, Christie beat Corzine by 43 percent to 37 percent, with independent Chris Daggett getting 5 percent.
However, the Corzine campaign plans to expand on Obama's visit with television commercials linking the men.
Democratic Party Chairman Joseph Cryan, a Union County assemblyman, said, "It's reasonable to expect we will remind the public to remember the partnership between Jon Corzine and Barack Obama."
More than 52,000 people who contacted the Corzine campaign for free Obama tickets also supplied the campaign with their e-mail addresses and telephone numbers, information that the campaign will use to continually contact voters throughout the race and, most important, on Election Day.
Obama also attended a private fund-raiser yesterday for the governor and the Democratic National Committee that raised more than $1 million.
Corzine is tapping his own considerable fortune to support his campaign and will not be subject to state spending limits. Christie and Daggett seek state matching funds, meaning they must live with the spending limits. Statewide candidates in New Jersey are stuck between two of the country's most expensive television advertising markets - New York and Philadelphia - and typically spend $1.3 million a week to get voters' attention in the final weeks of a race.
Christie has been working hard to counteract the Obama effect. He released a video yesterday morning depicting a half-dozen people saying they had voted for Obama but planned to vote for Christie for governor. On the eve of the president's visit, Christie released a video welcoming him to New Jersey and inviting him to take advantage of two of the state's resources: saltwater taffy and Bruce Springsteen, who made a rare political appearance last year singing at an Obama rally in Philadelphia.
On a more serious note, Christie said residents were suffering under a poor economic climate and high taxes. He spent the week campaigning in Democratic strongholds, including Camden, Newark, Perth Amboy, and Trenton, and touting his urban policy.
Initially planned for the lawn at Rutgers University, the Corzine campaign switched yesterday's event to the PNC Bank Arts Center to accommodate the expected crowd. Those who could not get tickets were told they would have first priority if the president returned to the state. Michelle Obama might appear for Corzine in the fall.