Politics at play as Obama talks energy at MIT

President Barack Obama is doing more than promoting clean energy with a tour of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He’s pumping some energy of his own into the campaigns of New England allies facing tough re-election bids.

The president’s politicking on Friday begins in Cambridge, Mass., with a quick “official” event at MIT to challenge the nation to lead the global economy in clean energy. That appearance significantly brings down the cost of flying the president to fundraisers designed to raise money for two politically anemic Democrats, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut.

Patrick, an Obama friend who faces re-election in 2010, has insisted for months he’s not focused on re-election next year, but drops the pretense with two high-profile fundraisers.

“He’s going to need a lot of funds to overcome his low poll ratings, so I expect on balance it will be a good thing for him,” Tufts University political science professor Kent Portney said of Patrick. “President Obama is still very, very popular here in Massachusetts.”

After the MIT speech and downtown Boston fundraisers, Obama heads to Connecticut to help Dodd’s 2010 bid with an estimated $1 million haul. Obama plans to visit a small business and appear at a fundraiser with Dodd, the White House’s pointman in the Senate on financial regulatory reform.

Politics has colored the White House schedule this week. On Tuesday alone, Obama raised an estimated $3 million for the Democratic National Committee during a series of appearances in New York City. He also campaigned in New Jersey, Virginia and Florida.

The New England trip comes little more than a month after Patrick pushed through a change in state law creating an interim senator to replace the late Edward M. Kennedy. Obama and his staff sought the appointment to restore the Democrats’ 60-vote, filibuster-proof margin in the Senate as the administration tries to pass its top domestic priority, overhauling the nation’s health insurance system.

Dodd, who faces an uphill climb of his own, has become a close ally in dealing with the financial industry, bypassing a change to take Kennedy’s leadership role on health care in favor of staying with his portfolio.

Democrats look ahead to the 2010 midterm elections with the barest filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and the risk of giving up a more sizable majority in the House.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.