What do party leaders do when an incumbent insists on running for re-election even when he’s polling just above ACORN a year before the election? Usually, they quietly signal a lack of support or find another job for them to take as an incentive to withdrawing and allowing a better candidate to sail through a primary without taking intra-party damage that could give the opposing party an advantage in the general election. And when that party leader is the current President of the United States, quietly usually becomes sub-audible.
Not for this President, however, as New York Governor David Paterson discovered when he opened his New York Times this morning:
President Obama has sent a request to Gov. David A. Paterson that he withdraw from the New York governor’s race, fearing that Mr. Paterson cannot recover from his dismal political standing, according to two senior administration officials and a New York Democratic operative with direct knowledge of the situation.
The decision to ask Mr. Paterson to step aside was proposed by political advisers to Mr. Obama, but approved by the president himself, one of the administration officials said.
“Is there concern about the situation in New York? Absolutely,” the second administration official said Saturday evening. “Has that concern been conveyed to the governor? Yes.”
The administration officials and the Democratic operative spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions with the governor were intended to be confidential.
Confidential! That must be why it wound up on the front page of the Paper of Record, right? The White House idea of “confidential” must be “leaking to everyone who has a pen and a piece of paper,” because several of “knowledgeable Democrats” also ran to Jake Tapper at ABC News with the same story. By the time you read this, several “knowledgeable Democrats” will have contacted the Podunk News Recycler and the West Sticks Free Times to let them know about this “confidential” missive to Paterson, too.
Other than the insulting manner in which this was handled, it’s really not much of a surprise, as Jazz Shaw points out:
The Paper of Record refers to this as “an extraordinary intervention into a state political race by the president,” and it certainly caught me by surprise, but I’m not sure it’s entirely out of line. After all, the moment a person takes a seat in the Oval Office, they become, in effect, the titular head of their party, and the Democrats may have plenty to worry about in New York next year. Absent a major sea change, a Giuliani – Paterson matchup would be a bloodbath with the GOP taking back the governor’s mansion.
Clearly, the Democratic leadership would rather see Cuomo in the election against Giuliani than Paterson, and for very good reason. Paterson has no support in New York and would lose a general election against anyone but Donald Trump — and I wouldn’t count The Donald out entirely. Paterson would likely lose handily in a primary against Cuomo, but it would force Cuomo to spend money early and split the party when it is already in enough trouble.
Under those circumstances, it’s not unusual for a President to ask a governor of his own party to step aside. Usually, a President would find an appointment for the governor as a face-saving inducement, rather than send his minions to the press in a campaign of humiliation to make his point. Either Paterson didn’t respond to earlier nudges from the Oval Office, or the White House just decided to make themselves look incompetent and completely self-absorbed. In fact, those two options are not mutually exclusive.