For incumbent Democrats in competitive Senate races in states like New Hampshire, North Carolina, Arkansas, Colorado, and even Louisiana, they can take solace in the fact that they continue to poll ahead of the deeply unpopular head of their party: President Barack Obama.
Both incumbent and challenger campaigns in these and other races are keenly aware that any association with the president will only benefit Republicans in November. This is why, for example, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kay Hagan (D-NC), and Mark Udall (D-CO) have flipped on their opposition to the issue du jour – limited travel restrictions on residents of Ebola-affected West African nations.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), who has been under immense pressure from Pelican State Republicans to endorse a travel ban, may soon be next. University of Louisiana at Lafayette Associate Professor Dr. Pearson Cross recently told Time Magazine that the senator could face a “high” short-term political cost if she does not do so soon.
The White House’s embrace of some limited restrictions into which airports those West African residents coming to the United States must travel may quiet some Democratic criticism, but it will not stem the tide of dissent entirely.
The Washington Post’s left-of-center blogger Greg Sargent calls this dance on the part of Democrats out for what it is: A cynical effort to create some distance from the White House. Sargent noted, however, that this strategy on the part of embattled Democrats was not without cost. Republican voters are far more enthusiastic than are Democrats this cycle, and committed partisan liberals are still passionate in their support for the president. By attempting to capture independent voters who oppose the president but are not entirely sour on Democrats, Sargent warns that incumbent Senators may be playing the short game.
NBC News’ First Read team concurs with Sargent. They insisted on Tuesday that Democrats are demoralizing the progressive base voters whom they need to turn out in order to make a convincing showing against Republican candidates.
42% of all Republican voters say they’re more enthusiastic than usual, versus just 34% for Democrats. And if Republicans run the table in the all the close races – similar to how Democrats ran the table in all of the toss-up contests in 2006 – there is going to be a TREMENDOUS amount of second-guessing about the Democratic candidates keeping their distance from Obama. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: A party running away from a president never works. One, because the party already owns the president. And two, because that running away alienates many of the voters who elected — and then re-elected — him. In other words, if the Democratic Party wants to energize its voters, is treating the head of the party like a pariah the best way to do that? Bottom line: It’s just demoralizing, and it creates a negative feedback loop…
This process of incumbent officeholders distancing themselves from an unpopular president in his sixth year in office is as regular as the rains. According to CNN, the White House reportedly sent the word out to his political allies that there would be “will be no consequences should they run away from the president in order to win.”
But the president’s actions speak far louder than do CNN reports. In early October, Democratic political operatives cringed when the president insisted that his policies were on the ballot in November and a vote for Democrats was a vote for him. The president further undercut Democratic efforts to distance themselves from the White House in an interview with MSNBC host Al Sharpton on Monday.
“The bottom line is, though, these are all folks who vote with me,” Obama said of embattled Democratic incumbents. “So, this isn’t about my feelings being hurt. These are folks who are strong allies and supporters of me. And I tell them, I said, you know what, you do what you need to win.”
Not, however, if doing “what you need to win” consists of denouncing him and his policies, apparently.
The fact of the matter is that incumbent politicians distancing themselves from the head of their party in virtually every midterm election, let alone a sixth year midterm, is not just something politicians engage in as part of some observance of tradition. As National Journal columnist Josh Kraushaar noted in his most recent post, Democrats running in tight races who employ their own polling outfits are not uniformly running away from Obama on a hunch.
“All told, the cascading number of controversies and scandals in the president’s second term has fed into the perception that this administration is out of its depth in doing its primary job: managing government,” Kraushaar wrote. “And that’s not good for Democrats, both the party in power and the party associated with an activist federal government.”
He adds that in states where Republican Senate candidates are floundering – Georgia, South Dakota, and Kansas in particular – will only continue to suffer in the polls so long as their races are not “nationalized” and voters do not see those races as referenda on the president’s leadership.
In all, Democrats in red and purple states may benefit from a slight boost in enthusiasm among progressives if they unapologetically embrace Obama. To suggest that it will be enough to overcome the deluge of enthusiasm among Obama’s opponents this cycle, however, smacks of wishful thinking on the part of the president’s supporters.