Obama to Paterson: Quit
President Obama has reportedly asked New York Governor David Paterson to drop his bid to win election in his own right, fearing that he would hurt Democrats down ballot.
The decision to ask Mr. Paterson to step aside was proposed by political advisers to Mr. Obama, but approved by the president himself, one of the administration officials said. “Is there concern about the situation in New York? Absolutely,” the second administration official said Saturday evening. “Has that concern been conveyed to the governor? Yes.” The administration officials and the Democratic operative spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions with the governor were intended to be confidential.
NYT reporters Raymond Hernandez and Jeff Zeleny echo my reaction:
The move against a sitting Democratic governor represents an extraordinary intervention into a state political race by the president, and is a delicate one, given that Mr. Paterson is one of only two African-American governors in the nation. But Mr. Obama’s political team and other party leaders have grown increasingly worried that the governor’s unpopularity could drag down Democratic members of Congress in New York, as well as the Democratic-controlled Legislature, in next fall’s election.
Obviously, the race issue is a non-factor coming from a biracial president who self-identifies as black. But it is indeed “extraordinary” for a president to involve himself in the selection of his parties candidates for local elections, much less urge incumbents to withdraw. So, why?
The general election is more than a year away, but Mr. Obama and his political team are moving now in part because of signals from Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, that he may run for governor, according to Democrats who have spoken with White House officials. Many Democratic leaders believe that Mr. Giuliani’s presence at the top of the Republican ticket could spark enthusiasm among his party’s voters, who might otherwise have little desire to go to the polls.
Leading Democrats in the state have expressed deep concern about Mr. Paterson’s ability to hold on to the office. But most have been wary of openly suggesting he step aside. The White House move could give them cover to abandon Mr. Paterson and endorse another candidate, most likely Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, who has been debating for months whether to take on Mr. Paterson in a primary.
A sitting president has long been considered the nominal “head” of his party. Obama seems to be taking that to its logical conclusion. There’s not really any reason he shouldn’t use his influence behind the scenes in this manner, although it’s yet another step down the rather depressing road of presidents thinking they actually “run the country” rather than just heading up one of three branches of the central government in a federal system.