Obama's endorsement: worthless or radioactive?
Over at TNR, Jonathan Chait tries to rationalize Obama's defeat in Pennsylvania -- and he calls me "dimwitted" for saying Arlen Specter's loss was a defeat for Obama by pointing out that the president has an 80 percent job approval among Pennsylvania Democrats. "Thiessen seems to be suggesting that Specter lost a Democratic primary not despite Obama's endorsement but because of it."
Maybe Chait ought to focus on what I actually said, not what I "seem to be suggesting." What I said was that Obama "ushered Specter into the Democratic party and embraced him, that "voters rejected his chosen candidate at the polls" and that this was a “repudiation” of the president. The fact that Obama enjoys 80 percent approval among Pennsylvania Democrats only makes the president’s defeat in Pennsylvania all the more stinging. Despite his endorsement and the efforts of his powerful political operation, Obama could not translate that support into votes at the polls. There is nothing more embarrassing than when a leader tries to rally his troops but they refuse to follow. Obama recruited Specter and put his prestige behind him, telling Pennsylvania Democrats: This is my guy, vote for him. They said no. How on earth is that not a repudiation? One would think that the one place where Obama's endorsement would matter is in the Democratic primary in a blue state such as Pennsylvania. But it didn't.
The uncomfortable reality for Democrats is that, in contest after contest, Obama's endorsement has proven meaningless at best, and at worst he has been radioactive. David Broder made much the same point yesterday, declaring that Specter’s failure “showed the Obama White house once again to be a toothless tiger -- with its endorsements now having failed in Virginia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. No good news for the president there.”
In a desperate search for silver linings, the Democrats are pointing to their success in holding Jack Murtha's seat in Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional district as proof that the anti-Obama tide is not that strong. But as George Will points out, Democrat Mark Critz won that race by running against Obama -- opposing Obamacare and cap-and-trade, while declaring himself pro-life and pro-gun. Apparently the fact that Obama enjoys 80 percent support among Pennsylvania Democrats was not persuasive enough for this Pennsylvania Democrat to embrace the president. The fact is the one victory the Democrats could claim Tuesday came at the president's expense, not because of his support.
Come fall, I wonder how many House Democrats who won narrow victories in conservative districts in 2008 will ask him to come out and campaign for them. Not many, I suspect. As Karl Rove points out in the Wall Street Journal, "Democrats are increasingly likely to distance themselves from Mr. Obama, either ignoring him or running against him."
The fact is, for Democrats -- especially those in the South and in swing districts -- Obama is a liability. The morning after the election, Rand Paul virtually taunted Obama to come and campaign for his Democratic opponent: "I say, bring it on. Please, please bring President Obama to Kentucky. We'd love for him to campaign down here." It would be the best thing that happened to Paul's campaign if the president took him up on the offer.
| May 21, 2010; 12:02 PM ET
Categories: Thiessen | Tags: Marc Thiessen
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