Almost all Democratic Senate candidates would welcome Obama
By Aaron Blake
Is the Obama-as-albatross meme oversold?
As the president campaigns Thursday with Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Missouri Senate candidate Robin Carnahan (D), his value as campaigner-in-chief heading into the 2010 election remains a hot topic. But nearly all major Democratic Senate candidates say they are willing to take the good with the bad and stand alongside the president in their home states. And many of them are prepared to embrace him.
In a survey of 20 top Democratic candidates by The Fix, not one said he or she wouldn't welcome a joint appearance with the president, though some qualified their answers a bit.
Republicans have been quick to point out that candidates like Carnahan and Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher made little effort to appear alongside the president during his previous visits to their states. But in the past few weeks, Fisher has appeared with Obama at a stimulus rally and raised money with Vice President Biden, and the Missouri secretary of state is welcoming the president Thursday to raise money for her Senate campaign - her second appearance with him this year.
While the campaigns of Carnahan, Fisher and candidates like Reps. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) and Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) have been happy to hitch their wagons to Obama, it's bit tougher for candidates in red states like Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky and Louisiana.
Still, even in Indiana, Rep. Brad Ellsworth's (D-Ind.) campaign said he would welcome the "opportunity to show-off the great people and businesses of this state."
Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway's campaigns offered qualified answers when asked whether they would welcome Obama, and Rep. Charlie Melancon's (D-La.) campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
"President Obama did not campaign in Arkansas during his own race in 2008," reminded Lincoln spokeswoman Katie Laning Niebaum, "but Sen. Lincoln has let him know that he is always welcome in Arkansas."
While Arkansas is one of Obama's worst states, Kentucky isn't much better. Conway's campaign said it would welcome the president, but it also said it would use the occasion to express some concerns about his policies.
"Jack would take the opportunity to talk to the President about the concerns of Kentuckians including job creation, the deficit and why cap and trade legislation would hurt Kentucky's economy and should not be pursued by the administration," Conway spokeswoman Allison Haley said.
Conway's approach seems to be the name of the game - acknowledge Obama's role in the 2010 campaign but talk about your independence in order to inoculate yourself.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said in February the president "may not want to come here" and emphasized his independence. But his campaign told The Fix this week that he would be "honored" to have the president visit.
Carnahan, similarly, had been reticent to embrace Obama's health care plan but still welcomed him to town for his fundraising help.
Obama has so far campaigned for Reid, Carnahan, and Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). He has also appeared in the states with Fisher, Meek, Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) and Illinois state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias. Still awaiting visits are Sestak, Blumenthal, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and Delaware Senate candidate Chris Coons.
In Pennsylvania, the president campaigned with Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) during the primary, but Specter lost to Sestak. Despite criticizing Obama in the primary, Sestak has said he hopes to be the president's biggest ally in the Senate.
Giannoulias said last week that he thinks the president will campaign with him. There, it's more a matter of whether the president will make the appearance; Giannoulias has some baggage, but Obama could be a big help in his home state.
It's hard to see candidates like Conway, Ellsworth, Lincoln and Melancon actively seeking the president's help. He could probably get by in Indiana, which he won narrowly in 2008, but he's pretty unpopular in all four states now.
Obama's overall approval is around the mid-to-high 40s nationwide - a range that applies in most of the states holding top Senate contests. That's pretty consistent for someone who is supported by basically everyone on the left and opposed by basically everyone on the right.
Democrats remain competitive on the generic congressional ballot (generic Democrat vs. generic Republican), and even the health care bill is looking like less and less of a liability.
Still, with all of their pickup opportunities, even a slightly tilted playing field could pay dividends for Republicans. A Gallup poll this week showed just 38 percent of independents approve of Obama. If that number inches lower, it could be cause for concern among candidates all over the Senate map.
If those numbers hold, though, do candidates really have much to be ashamed of when it comes to their president? Or is this mostly just a way for the GOP to fire up their donor and activist bases?
July 8, 2010; 3:04 PM ET
Categories: Democratic Party , Senate | Tags: carnahan, obama, reid
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