Obama’s ‘Fair Weather’ Democratic Friends May Have Sealed Their Own Fate
Policy + Politics

Obama’s ‘Fair Weather’ Democratic Friends May Have Sealed Their Own Fate

President Obama has come in for huge amounts of criticism from Republicans for his fundraising activities in the months leading up to the midterm elections. He has appeared on the West Coast, the East Coast and points in between, usually in private events, pulling in millions of dollars for the Democratic Party.

Obama booked his odd travel itinerary because he hasn’t been welcome anywhere else.

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President Obama was finally allowed to openly campaign for a Democratic Senate candidate over the weekend, appearing at a rally in Detroit for Rep. Gary Peters, who is vying with Republican Terri Lynn Land for an open seat. But that hardly counts because Peters has the race wrapped up and there’s no way the president’s historically low approval ratings could hurt him in the final days of the campaign.

"Thank God, our president stood up for American workers," Peters told a boisterous crowd of mostly black Democrats Saturday night at Wayne State University.

That was about the nicest thing that a Democratic candidate has said about the president in the final days of the mid-term campaign, which polling data suggests will result in a GOP takeover of the Senate. Obama remains persona non grata in about ten other states where Democrats are fighting for their political lives and have distanced themselves from the president – often in embarrassing ways.

In Kentucky, Democratic Alison Lundergan Grimes has repeatedly refused to say whether she voted for Obama in 2012, while running TV ads to bluntly stress her differences with Obama on guns and coal in her bid to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

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Democratic Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu tells voters she will always put them first – even if that means bucking the president – and earlier this year she ran an ad saying, "The administration's policies are simply wrong when it comes to oil and gas production in this nation." 

In Alaska, freshman Democratic Sen. Mark Begich has said that Obama is “not relevant” in this election, and has spoken of the need to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling – a move strongly opposed by the Obama administration.

Recently, freshman Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas said in a TV interview that Obama had become “a drag” on his campaign. Even Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) reluctantly conceded that the government has been “late to the table” with its Ebola response and that “Certainly there are issues where” Obama has not shown strong leadership. 

While voters have done little to hide their contempt and disgust with politicians of all political stripes this year, the president has come in for an unusually brutal assessment on his leadership on foreign and domestic issues.

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A record low 44 percent of Americans report a favorable impression of him in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll released last week.

“President Obama's image is considerably weaker than during the past two election cycles, along of course with his job approval ratings,” The Post reported on Sunday. “Half the public now see Obama unfavorably, two points shy of his record high from last November amid the botched Healthcare.gov rollout.” 

Yesterday’s six-point unfavorable-favorable margin matches the worst since Obama rose to the national stage, according to the Post analysis.

“You’re finding Democrats pretty dispirited at this point and trying to distance themselves from the president,” former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, said on “Fox News Sunday.” 

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While there is no question that many Democrats with much riding on the outcome of Tuesday’s election have distanced themselves from the president and his policies, the tactic doesn’t appear to be working.

Late breaking polls and analysis show that Begich, Pryor and Grimes are likely to go down on Tuesday, as are Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Landrieu – if she is forced into a runoff with Republican challenger Bill Cassidy. Hagan appears to be in better shape than the others, but her race against Republican Thom Tillis is still considered to be one of the toughest in the country.

It comes down to the fact that Democrats can run but they can’t hide from the policies and performance of a Democratic president. And some wonder whether some of these Democrats made a mistake by breaking so publicly with Obama.

Democratic political analyst Donna Brazile said on the ABC News program This Week that many of those Democrats had made a mistake by distancing themselves from Obama’s policies – especially in light of an improving economy – and because some of his other issues, such as raising the minimum wage and pay equity for women are popular with the Democratic base.

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Brazile recently called Grimes’ refusal to say whether she voted for Obama a huge mistake that generated unwelcomed controversy. “Like most Democrats running this fall, Grimes cannot win the election without the support of the Democratic base, and the Democratic base expects her to vote for a Democratic president against his Republican opponent,” she told CNN.

Brazile’s comments point out that there is a chicken-or-the-egg element to the question of whether the Democrats’ collective decision to run away from the president. They could be distancing themselves from the administration because of the unpopularity of its policies made them fear that associating themselves with them was a recipe for losing.

However, there is also at least an argument that they are losing because they failed to embrace the administration’s successes and to challenge the Republicans’ spin on the administration’s performance.

There is ample evidence that the economy is not just on the mend, but is growing at a faster rate than just about any other developed economy in the world. The 55 consecutive months of job growth, an unemployment rate at its lowest point since the beginning of the Great Recession and other positive economic signs are incontestable signs of progress, though the recovery is not yet complete.

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The Affordable Care Act has for the most part been political poison for Democrats, largely because the GOP has been successfully demagoguing the issue since the bill passed. Democrats elected not to run on the fact that millions of people now have health insurance who did not before the law went into effect, that health care cost inflation has declined, and that only Republican obstructionism at the state level has prevented millions more from gaining coverage under Medicaid expansion.

Even a highly successful public health response to the Ebola problem has been turned into a problem for Democrats. To date, two people have contracted the disease in the U.S., both of whom were involved in a poorly managed response to the case of a man who brought the disease here from Africa. Both have recovered, as have a number of other medical professionals who were flown back from Africa for treatment here. No other cases have been reported here, despite Republican warnings of rampant disease if the borders were not shut immediately.

At this point, though, whether running on the administration’s successes rather than running from its failures would have worked for Democratic candidates is an academic question, because nobody really tried. 

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