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Gulf states prove sticky spots for Obama visit

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It's hard to gauge which part of the Gulf Coast holds President Obama in lower esteem — the oil-tainted eastern side or in oil-rich Texas — but both get a presidential visit in August.

Obama will make a pair of fundraising stops in Texas — a state he lost to Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primaries, and where Democratic officials are not eager to see him.

“He is coming to Texas to take tight resources out of this state and use them in another state,” said Gerald Birnberg, chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party. “That is not something we are particularly excited about.”

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There are no national races in Texas this year; Obama will be raising money for the Democratic National Committee and for Senate candidates. The top of the Texas ballot is the governor's race, where Democrat Bill White is challenging Republican incumbent Rick Perry.

White told the Dallas Morning News he isn't planning to appear with Obama at either stop in Texas, saying “I was in the oil and gas business when he was a community organizer.”

Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University, called that remark “a net loss to Bill White.”

“He is still running as a Democrat and even in Texas there is no reason to gratuitously take a swipe at the Democratic president,” Jillson said.

Even so, it underscores how touchy an Obama visit can be in closely divided states. Texas, which has been under Republican control for more than a decade, is slowly seeing Democratic gains.

Perry, who has been campaigning hard on White's past political support for Obama, has asked for his own meeting with the president — to talk about border security.

Obama also may not get a warm welcome when he travels later that same week to the Gulf Coast.

The president and first lady Michelle Obama were widely criticized for admonishing Americans to vacation in the region — right before taking their own family to an exclusive resort town in Maine.

“It is vacation time,” Obama said last month in Florida. “Folks are looking for things to do with their kids, and this would be a great opportunity to do a few things — help this community, send a different message about the extent of the spill.”

The White House last week announced the Obama family will take a weekend trip to the Gulf Coast on Aug. 14.

“It's in his interests to do it,” Jillson said.

A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll of Gulf area residents found only 24 percent approve of Obama's handling of the spill. And just 35 percent said they approved of the job he's doing as president.

Still, if the cap that BP recently placed on the well holds and the oil stops flowing into the Gulf, Obama can turn the situation there to his political advantage, Jillson said.

“Once you get the oil stopped, you are moving to control the catastrophe, it's not an ongoing crisis anymore,” Jillson said.

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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