Obama To Congressional Dems: You May Not Want Me In Your District
Democrats have not figured out how to use President Obama during the upcoming Mid-Term campaign, if at all.
President Obama seems to be recognizing that he may be more of a hindrance than a help to his fellow Democrats this fall:
WASHINGTON — As lunch was served in the Roosevelt Room of the White House one day last week, President Obama assured the nine Democratic members of Congress sitting around the table that he would do anything he could to help them survive their fall elections.
Even, he said, if it meant staying away.
“You may not even want me to come to your district,” Mr. Obama said, according to guests, nearly all of whom hold seats that Republicans are aggressively seeking.
Three months before the midterm elections, the president is stepping up his involvement in the fight to preserve the Democratic Party’s control of Congress. But advisers said he would concentrate largely on delivering a message, raising money and motivating voters from afar, rather than on racing from district to district.
It is a vivid shift from the last two elections, when Mr. Obama was the hottest draw for Democratic candidates in red and blue states alike. And it highlights the tough choices Democrats face as they head toward Election Day with the president’s approval ratings depressed, Republicans energized, the economic slump still lingering and two veteran House Democrats now facing public hearings on ethics charges.
Democrats who are on the ballot hope to make the election about issues other than Mr. Obama, including the benefits to their constituents of the health care and stimulus legislation and the argument that voting Republican means a return to the policies of President George W. Bush.
That line of thinking is largely shared inside the West Wing, where advisers are trying to determine the balance between using Mr. Obama to inspire voters and keeping him from becoming a defining negative presence. Already, Mr. Obama is popping up more as a target in Republican campaign advertisements than as a positive presence in Democratic ones.
This isn’t entirely surprising. Many of the districts that Democrats picked up in 2006 and 2008 are, at best, marginal districts where Republican pickups seem likely to begin with — for example, Tom Perreillo only won Virginia’s 5th Congressional District by 727 votes in 2008. That, combined with the President’s weak approval numbers and the weak economy, argues strongly that the best thing for some Members of Congress would be for the President to stay away for the next three months.
On the other side of the coin, though, some Democrats are worried that the White House isn’t focusing enough on the fall elections:
Many Democrats continue to demand more help from Mr. Obama and his team, and question whether the White House is as committed to their fates this year as it is to the president’s re-election in 2012.
When Representative Gerald E. Connolly, Democrat of Virginia, was asked last week whether he was convinced that Mr. Obama was fully focused on the midterm election campaign, he paused for 18 seconds and lowered his head before continuing.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” said Mr. Connolly, chairman of the freshman class of Democrats, who were elected in 2008. “I am confident they will focus. I’m confident at the end of the day that they understand that significant losses or loss of control will have a terribly serious negative impact on his presidency.”
Connolly, interestingly, speaks from a unique perspective. His district went overwhelmingly for Barack Obama in 2008, which helped him beat his Republican opponent in an open race. The next year, though, the same district favored Republican Gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell by a 20,000 vote margin, something highly unusual in a district that has been trending Democratic for a decade now. Connolly is one of those freshman Democrats who needs Democratic enthusiasm to win in November, and the lack of White House engagement is no doubt worrisome for candidates in his position.
So far, then, Democrats don’t seem to have figured out how they want to use the President in the upcoming mid-terms. I doubt he’ll be spending the next three months campaigning from the Rose Garden, but we’re more likely to see him going to closed-door fundraisers than big political rallies in vulnerable districts.