Obama, Biden in high demand on campaign trail this year

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama may be staying neutral in the Democratic presidential race, but he is putting himself at the center of his party's campaigns for seats in Congress, state legislatures and even mayor's offices.

Democratic officials say Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are in high demand on the campaign trail this year.

That's a sharp reversal from two years ago, when Obama was politically toxic. With his sagging poll numbers, most Democratic candidates in 2014 practically begged Obama to stay away.

This year, upbeat economic news and rising approval ratings have increased his value to Democrats in the last election before he leaves office.

"You're going to see ever-increasing requests for Obama and Biden to campaign for candidates this year," said Amy Dacey, the CEO of the Democratic National Committee. So far this year, Obama has endorsed candidates in nine races.

Two years ago, Democrats fought their toughest Senate races in conservative-leaning states where Obama has always been deeply unpopular. The map shifted this year to states Obama won twice, including New Hampshire, Nevada and Colorado — also critical states for winning the White House.

"The president right now is the most popular elected official in the country among Democrats and independents," said David Simas, the White House political director. "When you start looking at what these battleground states will be at the presidential, Senate and House level, the map is pretty wide open for the president to engage and be helpful."

But Andrea Bozek, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, called it a sign of desperation that Democrats felt they needed to bring in Obama to secure their preferred candidates.

Though Obama won't be on November's ballot, the stakes for his legacy are just as high. A return of the White House to Republican control would mean the likely rollback of many of his policies on health care, immigration and the environment.

Yet Democrats say the chaos in the Republican presidential race has created an opening to take back the Senate and maybe even the House, preserving Obama's policies for years to come.

So far, Obama is avoiding publicly choosing sides between front-runner Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in the presidential race. White House officials said he will campaign full-force for the eventual nominee, but for now his main role has been to attack Republican front-runner Donald Trump.