WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama has no plans to campaign on behalf of the underdog Democrat in an uphill battle against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and is weighing how much help to give his party's scandal-enmeshed candidate for governor of Virginia, where Democrats are more bullish about winning.

It's the type of delicate, race-by-race calculation the White House repeatedly will have to make in the 2014, when Obama's own legacy will be on the line. Next fall, voters will decide whether to elect a Congress that will help Obama achieve his goals for his final two years in office, or whether to elect one that will block him at every turn.

The president is a huge draw for Democratic candidates, his presence all but guaranteeing they will bring in big dollars and recruit volunteers in Democratic-leaning states and districts. That explains why they're seeking his help now, more than a year before the midterm congressional elections.

"They're all sending in their requests – `Go here, go there,'" said Craig Smith, a White House political director under President Bill Clinton. "At the end of the day, it's this mix: How can I be helpful? What's the timing? Who do I have relationships with that I owe?"

Indeed, with only limited time for campaigning, Obama plans to get involved, both this year and next, only in close races where his efforts could realistically put the Democrat over the finish line, said a Democratic official involved with Obama's political plans who wasn't authorized to discuss strategy and requested anonymity.

This year, Democrats are quietly conceding they'll probably lose in New Jersey, where Barbara Buono, the Democrat, dramatically trails Christie in polling in a state that leans heavily Democratic. That means an Obama visit isn't likely unless the race tightens, the official said.

But in Virginia, surveys show Democrat Terry McAuliffe in a neck-and-neck race for governor, and Democrats are eager to show that what was once a conservative stronghold is now winnable.

Still, there are risks if Obama appears in Virginia, where McAuliffe's campaign has been rocked by a federal probe into an electric car company he started.

Even so, the official said, Obama may still help McAuliffe, who raised more than $500,000 to help Obama win re-election. Plus, the Democrat could win. McAuliffe's Republican opponent, Ken Cuccinelli, is mired in his own scandal. And Obama could help drive up turnout among minorities in the Washington suburbs.

First lady Michelle Obama has already campaigned for McAuliffe, and in June, Vice President Joe Biden stood side by side with the Democrat, blasting Cuccinelli at a major fundraiser for Virginia Democrats.

The stakes will be far higher for Obama next year, when all 435 House seats, one-third of the Senate and three dozen governors' races will be on the ballot. Up for grabs will be control of the closely divided Senate, where Democrats are defending a hefty 21 seats and will lose the majority if Republicans pick up six of them, and the House, where history shows the president's party tends to lose seats during his sixth year in office.

Breaking that trend is a big concern for Obama, whose legislative priorities have been stymied time and again by the Republican-controlled House.

"I will get a lot more done with a Democratic House, and I sure need to keep a Democratic Senate," Obama said earlier this summer at a Democratic fundraiser in Los Angeles.

In previous years, Obama's efforts to help Democratic candidates have been limited, fueling criticism within the party that the president cared more about his own legacy than about building the Democratic Party. He has pledged to intensify his efforts for 2014, and already he has held or committed to at least 20 fundraisers for the national party and for the House and Senate committees that work to elect Democratic candidates.

In the Obama White House, a cadre of senior aides and political minds will be making the decisions about where to campaign in 2014, including chief of staff Denis McDonough, polling guru David Simas and deputy chief of staff Alyssa Mastromonaco. Obama's senior advisers, Dan Pfeiffer and Valerie Jarrett, will also be involved.

Candidates who don't make the cut for an in-person campaign stop will have other opportunities to tap into Obama's well of political support. Biden and Mrs. Obama will also be campaigning for Democrats, complemented by social media, email lists, voter data and online videos.

Another factor for the White House to consider: With Obama's own approval ratings hovering below 50 percent, he can't be helpful in all places.

In fact, of the roughly 10 competitive Senate races next year, almost all are in states Obama lost last year. In conservative-leaning states like West Virginia and South Dakota, Democratic retirements have created prime pick-up opportunities for the GOP, while in Louisiana, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is bracing for a tough re-election fight. Vulnerable Democrats in those states know a photo op with Obama only gives Republicans the opportunity to argue Democrats are lapdogs for the president.

_____

Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • George Clooney & President Obama

    Actor George Clooney leaves after he spoke to the media March 15, 2012 at the White House in Washington, DC. Clooney had meeting with President Barack Obama to discuss the current situations in Darfur, Sudan. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • President Obama & Tyler Perry

    Actor and director Tyler Perry hugs US President Barack Obama during a campaign event at Tyler Perry Studios March 16, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. President Obama is spending the day traveling to Chicago, Illinois and Atlanta, Georgia to attend private and public campaign events. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

  • The Obamas & Oprah Winfrey

    US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama chat with talk show host Oprah Winfrey during a taping of the Oprah Winfrey show April 27, 2011 at Harpo Studios in Chicago. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • President Obama & Magic Johnson

    In this handout image provided by the U.S. Navy, President Barack Obama is greeted on the court by NBA Hall of Fame basketball player Earvin 'Magic' Johnson and Michigan State University assistant coach Mike Garland. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class James R. Evans/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)

  • Willow Smith Performs At The White House

    Willow Smith, daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smitt, performs during the White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House on April 25, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg-Pool/Getty Images)

  • Antonio Banderas & President Obama

    Antonio Banderas and his wife Melanie Griffith hosted a fundraising event for President Obama in October 2011. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

  • Tom Hanks Narrates Pro-Obama Film

    This 17-minute film released by President Obama's re-election campaign was directed by Davis Guggenheim (director of "An Inconvenient Truth") and narrated by actor Tom Hanks.

  • Gov. Mitt Romney & Jeff Foxworthy

    Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney makes a campaign appearance with comedian Jeff Foxworthy at the Whistle Stop cafe March 12, 2012 in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

  • Gov. Mitt Romney & Kid Rock

    Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney greets musician Kid Rock during a campaign rally at the Royal Oak Theatre on February 27, 2012 in Royal Oak, Michigan. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • David Mustaine & Rick Santorum

    David Mustaine of Megadeth expressed support for Rick Santorum in a February <a href="http://www.musicradar.com/news/live/interview-megadeths-dave-mustaine-talks-guitar-politics-and-todays-music-529703" target="_hplink">interview with Music Radar</a>.

  • Kelly Clarkson & Ron Paul

    Kelly Clarkson tweeted about her love for Ron Paul in late 2011, but dialed it back slightly after a backlash accused her of supporting Paul's racist and homophobic publications, <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2012/03/09/kelly-clarkson-never-endorsed-ron-paul/" target="_hplink">reports Fox News</a>. (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Snoop Dogg & Ron Paul

    In December 2011, Snoop Dogg posted a picture of Ron Paul on his Facebook page with the caption "Smoke Weed Every Day," <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/31/us-snoopdogg-ronpaul-idUSTRE80U04220120131" target="_hplink">reports Reuters</a>. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Keep Memory Alive)

  • Oliver Stone & Ron Paul

    In January, Oliver Stone told <a href="http://www.rockcellarmagazine.com/2012/01/12/director-oliver-stone-on-history-and-america-jim-morrison-ron-paul/" target="_hplink">Rock Cellar Magazine</a> that he would vote for Ron Paul over Barack Obama if Paul was named the GOP nominee because "he's the only one of anybody who's saying anything intelligent about the future of the world." (Photo by Stephen Morton/Getty Images)