White House Cheat Sheet: Obama the Fundraiser
President Obama's appearance in Las Vegas today to raise money for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (Nev.) reelection race in 2010 -- the first such event the president has done for a single candidate -- raises questions about just how deeply he and his political team will wade into the coming midterm elections in an effort to boost Democratic congressional majorities.
The star-studded event -- Bette Midler and Sheryl Crow among others will perform -- is a testament to Reid's prominence and power in Washington as well as his potential vulnerability next November. Polling suggests that Nevada voters are deeply divided on Reid although Republicans have yet to find a candidate to challenge him.
The Reid event is the fourth fundraiser Obama has done for the party -- he raised money for the Democratic National Committee in March at the Warner Theater in Washington and again in Indiana last weekend. During that same weekend in Indiana, Obama held an event to benefit four Hoosier State House Members: Reps. Joe Donnelly, Brad Ellsworth, Baron Hill and Andre Carson.
He is also scheduled to raise money in Los Angeles on Wednesday for the DNC -- a two tiered event that features a small, private dinner for major donors and then a larger, smaller dollar event at which Jennifer Hudson and Earth Wind & Fire are set to perform. (Sidenote: Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter will be at the Los Angeles event, a chance for the newest Democrat to meet scads of potential donors to his 2010 reelection race.)
A president raising campaign cash for his party and its aspiring candidates is nothing new. President Bill Clinton was an unapologetic fundraiser throughout his eight years in the White House and President George W. Bush not only raised hundreds of millions for the GOP and its candidates but also was a tireless campaigner -- in the early part of this decade -- for his chosen candidates.
Unlike the two men who preceded him in office, however, much of Obama's appeal is tied up in his post-partisan messaging -- the idea that party politics ill serve the country.
In the most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, nearly seven in ten voters approved of the job Obama was doing, including two thirds of independents and 35 percent of Republicans.
"Obama's political capital derived from his high job approval comes in part from non-partisan independents and a few Republicans, so he may risk some of his favorability if they see him being more partisan," said Democratic operative Michael Meehan. Meehan added that the "slight risk" incurred by such is a move is more than worth it if it wins Reid's "loyalty" for a series of high profile legislative skirmishes on tap for the coming year.
The Obama team is well aware of the danger inherent in the president as campaigner-in-chief and, generally, works to keep him out of political harm's way. During the fall campaign, he did only a few advertisements for candidates (Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley was one) and in a runoff in Georgia's Senate seat, the president's team refused entreaties for him to campaign in the Peach State for former state Rep. Jim Martin.
In the recently concluded special election in New York's 20th district, the DNC spent under $10,000 on an ad that featured Obama's likeness but not his voice.
Preserving the Obama brand within the context of contested midterm elections in 2010 and in the runup to the 2012 reelection race will be a tall task for the president's political inner circle.
Expectations are high for the president. "Obama's ability to remain above the fray in the long term is directly tied to his success as campaigner-in-chief: a robust Democratic majority and strong coattails make it a lot easier for Obama to float above the ugly day to day politics that consumed Clinton and Bush 43," explained one senior party strategist.
Obama, as a sitting president, will be expected to actively fundraise and campaign to grow his majorities in Congress. Should he do so, he can expect Republicans to paint him as just another politician who talks about bipartisanship but defaults back to politics as usual. Should he do less than expected, however, his own party will surely be dissatisfied -- a potentially bigger problem as Obama seeks to keep Democrats united to pass his big ticket agenda items like health-care reform.
What to Watch For:
Tuesday Fix Picks: Is there anything greater than three-day weekends? We say no.
1. North Korea detonates a nuclear weapon.
2. E.J. Dionne on Obama's "center left two step."
3. The latest SCOTUS scuttlebutt.
4. Another primary challenger for Jim Bunning in Kentucky?
5. Is "Idol" rigged?
New Poll Shows Specter Support Soft: A new survey of Pennsylvania Democratic primary voters funded by a labor-aligned 527 group shows that while Sen. Arlen Specter starts any primary race as a favorite, there is significant weakness in his numbers. Specter leads Rep. Joe Sestak, who continues to mull a primary bid, 55 percent to 34 percent, according to the survey, which was conducted for Citizens for Strength and Security by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. But, not only is Sestak known by just three in ten Democrats in the state (suggesting room for real growth), many Democrats are taking a wait and see approach to Specter. "After Democratic primary voters are informed of Specter's record and previous support for Republican priorities his support erodes further as voters conclude he may not really be a Democrat after all," reads the polling memo. Now, it's important to remember that so-called "informed ballot" tests are not particularly instructive as they present a scenario -- lots of negative information on Specter -- that may not come to pass. Still, the argument that Specter's past votes can be used against him to question his commitment to the Democratic Party is a strong one, and certainly an avenue that Sestak would pursue if he ran. Organized labor, which provided nearly all of the funding for Citizens for Strength and Security during the 2008 election, remains skeptical about Specter due to his stated opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act. With a re-written version of that bill expected in the next month or two, this poll is meant as a warning to the newest Democrat that straying too far from party orthodoxy could cost him dearly.
2012 Like It's Tomorrow: June is going to be a big month for Iowa Republicans with three potential 2012 candidates coming into the state to campaign. The latest announcement came from former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee who will be in Spirit Lake on June 10 for a fundraising event for Bob Vander Plaats who is running (yet again) for governor in 2010. "Iowans love Mike Huckabee and they respect his common-sense approach to politics and public policy that favors Main Street over Wall Street," said Vander Plaats who chaired Huckabee's victorious campaign in the 2008 Iowa caucuses. Huckabee has made no secret of his desire to run for president again in 2012, resisting entreaties to consider other offices including a challenge to Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) in 2010. He'll have plenty of company in the Hawkeye State next month as Nevada Sen. John Ensign is set to make a speech and several campaign stops in Northwest Iowa next week and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour will raise money for the Republican Party of Iowa on June 25. Love it!
Mission Control Adds Hesla: Mission Control, an up and coming Democratic direct mail firm, is bolstering its Washington office with the addition of Maren Hesla who had been heading up EMILY's List's independent expenditure program -- known as Women VOTE!. "Maren, an expert at modeling and microtargeting (and an excellent writer to boot), will help us continue to produce creative ads that cut through the clutter and help our candidates and causes get across the finish line," wrote Mission Control founder Ed Peavy. Before joining EMILY's List, Hesla worked in the polling shop of Diane Feldman and in the late 1980s managed the successful U.S. House campaign of Ben "Cooter" Jones of "Dukes of Hazzard" fame. Mission Control, which includes Peavy, Adnaan Muslim, a fellow traveler on the "Friday Night Lights" road, and Amy Pritchard, who Hesla will join in the D.C. office, is coming off a special election victory in New York's 20th district in which the firm did the mail for Rep. Scott Murphy.
Griffin's Out: Former U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin has decided against running against Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) in 2010, leaving Republicans without an obvious top-tier candidate at the moment. "Arkansans are common sense conservatives and deserve a senator who reflects their values all the time, not just when she gets off the plane in Little Rock," said Griffin of Lincoln. "I will continue to watch this race closely and with great interest." His decision leaves state Sen. Kim Hendren as the only announced Republican in the race and there is next to no chance national Republicans will let him be the nominee after he made an anti-semitic comment recently that drew national attention. Hendren may well drop out, says Arkansas' best political columnist -- John Brummett. If Hendren drops, the names being mentioned to step in are SafeFoods CEO Curtis Coleman and state Sen. Gilbert Baker. Despite the state's Republican tilt at the presidential level -- Sen. John McCain carried it by 20 points in 2008 -- the GOP has struggled to find strong candidates against either Lincoln or Sen. Mark Pryor (D) in recent elections.
Crider Moves On Up: Jennifer Crider, a longtime aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), will be the deputy executive director at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for the 2010 cycle. Crider spent last cycle as the communications director at the DCCC and an adviser to Pelosi. The DCCC staff changes, announced late Friday for some unknown reason, included Jennifer Pihlaja as incumbent retention director (a tough task given the 54 seats Democrats have won over the past two elections) and Marlon Marshall as national field director.
Say What?: "I tend to be a night owl." -- President Obama describes his work habits to C-SPAN's Steve Scully during an interview late last week.
May 26, 2009; 5:25 AM ET
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