Some Democratic candidates distance themselves from Obama
Fight or flight?
That is the question Democratic incumbents and challengers in this fall's elections are asking themselves when it comes to dealing with President Obama. Is the best course to distance oneself from a president whose job-approval rating has sunk below 50 percent and whose appeal to independents has gone missing? Or to embrace him and his policies -- the majority of which remain quite popular with the Democratic base that will be essential to any victories that the party claims this fall?
Powerful forces are lining up on both sides of that strategic divide.
One senior Democratic consultant suggested that the distance candidates are seeking to put between themselves and Obama is reflective of the ascendance of economic issues in voters' minds. "Barack Obama's economic policy of spending our way out of recession is seen as a failure at best and harmful at worst," the source said. "That should tell candidates in competitive jurisdictions all they need to know about running with the president."
Obama himself has long argued behind closed doors that Democratic incumbents are stuck with him in good times and in bad; that is, voters simply will not differentiate between the Democratic president and their Democratic member of Congress in the vast majority of districts across the country.
By embracing the president and his policies, the argument goes, the Democratic base will be fired up. And, in midterm elections, base intensity isn't everything -- it's the only thing.
But Tom Davis, a former congressman from Virginia and one of the Republican Party's leading strategists, noted that although Democrats need the "Obama turnout model in urban and minority areas," the president is "radioactive" in the "South, border and mountain states." That push and pull creates a "dilemma" for Democrats on the ballot this fall, Davis said.
Martin Frost, a longtime Texas Democratic congressman who, like Davis, spent much of his time in Washington focused on campaigns, said that while "candidates in the South and Midwest will need to put some distance between themselves and Obama," the president can still help his party avoid disaster this fall.
"Obama's best contribution to the campaign will be to raise money for the party committees, as he did in Texas" recently, Frost said. "He can raise big money even in red states, and he shouldn't be offended when Democrats like Bill White and Chet Edwards don't show up for a photo," he said, referring to the party's candidate for Texas governor and a congressman from the state, respectively.