WASHINGTON (AP) — After steering clear of the campaign trail for most of 2014, President Barack Obama is stepping up his efforts with a pair of events to boost Democrats running for governor in Maryland and Illinois.

Obama will appear on Sunday with Democrat Anthony Brown in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, a suburb not far from Washington. He'll fly the same day to Chicago to rally for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who is seeking another term as governor in Obama's home state.

Most Democrats have avoided appearing in public this year with Obama, whose low approval ratings six years into his presidency make him more of a political liability than an asset in most parts of the country. Obama has held dozens of fundraisers for Democrats behind closed doors, including a $32,400-per-person dinner on Tuesday in McLean, Virginia, benefiting House Democratic candidates.

But Sunday's rallies mark just the second and third major campaign events Obama is holding so far this year. His first will come Wednesday in Connecticut, where Obama will hold his first rally of the season with Gov. Dannel Malloy, who is seeking re-election.

"We're only 21 days out," Obama said Tuesday in a fundraising pitch for the Democratic Party. "So your chance to make a real difference in this election is right now."

Obama's midterm itinerary so far reveals a president sticking mostly to safely Democratic areas where he's more popular. All three states — Connecticut, Maryland and Illinois — are ones that Obama won twice. But Democrats are fighting most of their toughest races this year in conservative-leaning states where Obama is a drag on his party — especially in the Senate.

Recent polls have shown Brown, Maryland's lieutenant governor, running ahead of his opponent, Republican Larry Hogan. Connecticut's race is closer, with Malloy facing a tough challenge from Republican Tom Foley, but the state still tends to trend Democratic.

The race in Illinois is closer, with Republican Bruce Rauner seeking to exploit Quinn's low popularity despite the state's Democratic leanings. Yet Obama has the home-field advantage in Illinois, where he was first elected, and could energize Democratic voters to show up for Quinn who would otherwise stay home on Nov. 4.

Although the White House insists that Democrats' success in governors races is key for implementing Obama's agenda, the party's real focus this year is on the Senate, where Democrats are at risk of losing their slim majority. So far, the White House has not announced plans for Obama to appear with any Democratic candidates for Senate.

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