WaPo: White House writes off Wisconsin as lost

posted at 9:15 am on October 29, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

The Washington Post says that the White House has a message for Wisconsin Democrats: You’re on your own.  In a report on the desperate triage taking place inside the Oval Office, presidential advisers are attempting to find places where Barack Obama can’t hurt Democrats and where candidates have a reasonable chance for success.  That means Russ Feingold and Wisconsin have seen their last of Obama in the midterm cycle:

For months, Obama’s advisers had sorted through his political travel schedule during the Monday meetings, downstairs near the White House mess. Top advisers swapped ideas from their areas of expertise.

More recently, the group – which includes strategist David Plouffe, pollster Joel Benenson, senior adviser David Axelrod, scheduler Alyssa Mastromonaco, communications director Dan Pfeiffer, political director Patrick Gaspard and Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina – has homed in on individual candidate performances, participants said. The potential strength of each state’s political networks also was taken into account.

In some cases, the White House had Benenson conduct his own polling to test the president’s message and approval in specific environments, including in Florida, Colorado and Pennsylvania. More often, they looked to internal polling by the campaigns and by the Democratic committees,. From there, they would figure out how to match the public mood with the financial ability of the campaigns to foot the expense of bringing in the president.

Heading into the final stretch, the White House was mindful that in earlier off-year campaigns in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Virginia, Obama had been unable to turn Democrats’ fortunes with last-minute visits. So it made little sense to book him for lost causes. Instead, they hoped to guarantee victories or tip the scales in close calls.

Wisconsin, for instance, could have been an easy stop, given that it is so close to Chicago. But it was quickly eliminated after the Senate seat began to slip from Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold‘s grasp, even after a presidential visit to Madison, Wis., last month. Republican Ron Johnson now appears to have a solid lead.

That may not be a surprise for those of us who have watched the polling in Wisconsin — Feingold hasn’t been above 46% all year — but the White House acknowledgment of Feingold’s upcoming failure will almost certainly take Wisconsin Democrats by surprise.  Obama toured Wisconsin at the end of September on behalf of Feingold, who had been rumored to be avoiding being seen with Obama and showed up at the rally to explicitly link himself to the President.  To no one’s surprise, that did nothing to increase support for Feingold or the Democrats in general in Wisconsin.

The Post article paints a remarkable picture of a collapsing universe for Obama in the final days of the midterms.  Not only did Obama and his team have to worry about damaging Democrats in states like Kentucky and West Virginia, they also had to protect themselves from the kind of damage sustained by Obama after supporting surprise losers like Martha Coakley and Jon Corzine in the final hours of their campaigns.  In the end, Obama will only visit Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Bridgeport (Connecticut), safely blue harbors in a red storm rising.

The choice of Bridgeport seems particularly odd.  Dick Blumenthal has opened up a sizable lead in most polls in the Senate race, but apparently the White House isn’t convinced.  They’re also worried, despite their publicly-expressed optimism about Democratic efforts to hold onto the House, about losing the Senate:

The most curious stop is Connecticut, where Richard Blumenthal, the Democratic Senate candidate, appears to have a comfortable lead over Republican Linda McMahon. Rep. Jim Himes, a freshman Democrat who represents Bridgeport, also seems to be in decent shape.

But White House officials, stung by Republican Scott Brown’s surprising Senate victory in a special election in Massachusetts in January, do not want to see the year end in a similar manner in another traditionally Democratic New England state.

Even though the seat appears to be in hand, White House officials consider holding onto Connecticut critical to maintaining Senate control.

If they’re still worried about Linda McMahon and Senate control, one can only imagine how they see the House races turning.


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