CHICAGO — Even in this Democratic-leaning home state of President Barack Obama, the White House isn't taking anything for granted with an election that could mean big gains for Republicans just three weeks away.
Vice President Joe Biden, who followed a visit by Obama last week, campaigned for Gov. Pat Quinn at a Chicago rally on Tuesday evening, calling him the candidate for jobs.
First lady Michelle Obama will be here Wednesday to raise money for congressional Democrats and Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias, who's in a tight race for her husband's old Senate seat.
"The reports of the death of the Democratic Party have been exaggerated," Biden said at a pipe fitter's union in Chicago. "People are angry, and their anger is justified. I'm angry when I see what the policies of George Bush did to ordinary people."
The White House is barnstorming the country leading up to the Nov. 2 election with Biden and the first lady helping the president rally voters and raise money. Attention has been focused on Illinois because losing Obama's old Senate seat would be embarrassing for Democrats and an election-year trophy for Republicans.
"It says that we take this election very seriously," said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. "History tells us that off-year elections are never kind to the president's party. This president and vice president and the leaders of our party are determined to make a difference in that outcome."
Biden touted the accomplishments of the Obama administration and blasted Republicans for blocking legislation. He called Quinn's opponent, state Sen. Bill Brady, a "cookie cutter" Republican who has not proposed a plan to fix things, including balancing the state's budget.
Polls show a tight race between Quinn and Brady.
Biden comes to Chicago after campaigning Monday in Pennsylvania and earlier Tuesday in Iowa. The first lady is heading out on the campaign trail this week for the first time since her husband's 2008 campaign. She so far has 10 fundraisers in seven states over 12 days with more expected in the final week of the campaign.
In Illinois, Michelle Obama will raise money Wednesday for Giannoulias and congressional Democrats to help Reps. Bill Foster and Debbie Halvorson, who are locked in tight races, and hopeful Dan Seals, who is trying to snag Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk's seat.
Congressional Democrats are throwing money at about two dozen tight races around the country and shifting resources away from some others.
Kirk didn't seek re-election to the House because he's running for Obama's old Senate seat against Giannoulias and two others from the Green and Libertarian parties. Polls show an exceedingly tight race between Kirk and Giannoulias, the Illinois state treasurer.
Republicans say the big-name help from Washington in a state where Democrats hold all the statewide offices is a sign of how much trouble the other party is in.
"I think they're trying to shore up a weak candidate," Kirk said of Giannoulias.
The president headlined a fundraiser for Giannoulias in Chicago just last week.
A new poll of likely voters released Tuesday shows Kirk with 37.3 percent support and Giannoulias at 36.8 percent. The telephone poll of 758 likely voters was conducted Sept. 30 - Oct. 10 by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. It has a 3.5 percentage point margin of error.
Illinois Republican Party chairman Pat Brady doubted top Democrats would be of much help, saying that Biden "won't be able to rescue Gov. Quinn" from his record in office.
"Another stump speech from an administration that is more concerned about public relations than getting voters in Illinois back to work is out of touch and reckless," Brady said in a written statement.
Quinn, the former lieutenant governor, took over after former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office in January 2009. Green and Libertarian party candidates are also running.
The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute shows Brady with 38.4 percent support compared to 29.8 percent for Quinn.
Quinn said Biden coming to town for him is no sign of weakness and he touts the radio ad the president has made for him.
"He's my friend. He supports me. I believe in what he's doing in Washington and across our country," Quinn said.
Biden said he's confident Democrats will still be in control after the election.
"There is much more to come and much more to do," he told union workers in Chicago, before taking a shot at Republicans. "It's not that hard if they get out of the way."