WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama flew to Milwaukee for a fiery, populist speech on Labor Day, marking the informal kickoff of a push this fall to stave off Republican control of the Senate.
The president's brief visit to Wisconsin was ostensibly non-political, and he avoided wading into the state's hotly contested race for governor.
But Obama hit all his party's main campaign themes before an appreciative audience decked out in shirts proclaiming support for union membership, equal pay for women, gay rights, an increase in the minimum wage and immigration reform.
With the president unpopular in many of the states that are battlegrounds this fall, his main campaign assignment, beyond raising money, will be to try to boost turnout among minorities, young people and union members — groups that make up the core of the Democratic vote.
With such audiences, Obama's aim will be to push back against the sense of frustration about Washington that Democratic strategists fear will depress turnout of their voters this fall.
Obama cited recent job growth, expansion of energy production and improvements in manufacturing as he declared that "by almost every measure, the American economy and American workers are better off than when I took office."
"I placed a bet on you. I placed a bet on America's workers," he said.
The president touted a list of accomplishments, including health care reform, caps on student loan repayments and executive action to raise wages for some low-paid workers.
"Every inch of it, we have had to fight for" against "lock-step opposition that is opposed to everything we do," he said. "But it was worth it. Every gray hair is worth it."
Republicans, who have pledged to reverse some of Obama's moves, have a strong shot at capturing the six additional Senate seats this fall that would give them a majority. Democratic strategists say they fear that public cynicism about Washington will make their voters stay home this year.
One strategy the party has adopted is to tell voters that gridlock is not a problem of Washington as a whole but of the Republicans in particular.
The president returned to this line Monday, saying that the "facts of life" include "the sky is blue" and "Republicans in Congress love to say no."
As an example, he cited the proposed increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour trom the current $7.25.
"I'm not asking for the moon," Obama said. "I just want a good deal for American workers.
"Folks are doing very well on Wall Street. They're doing very well in corporate boardrooms," he said. "Give America a raise."
Polls consistently have shown the idea has broad public support. But the partisan gap on the issue explains why Congress has not acted: Democrats and independents favor an increase by a large margin, Republicans oppose it.
Nebraskans will be voting in November on a measure to raise the state's minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 per hour in two steps by 2016.