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Divided We Stand

Divided We Stand
New book about the 2020 election.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Obama Stiff-Arms Congressional Democrats

James Madison still rules and the separation of powers still shapes elections. In 1984, Reagan won a lonely landslide, stiffing the congressional GOP in a quest for a 50-state victory. In 1992, congressional Republicans ran away from Bush.  In 1996, Clinton made deals with Republicans that took away key issues from his party on Capitol Hill.

In 2010, Democratic House candidates won just less than 45% of the popular vote, so President Obama is not eager to hitch his prospects to them. Democrats think he is ignoring them. A June post highlighted a quotation from a Democratic congressional aide: “He’s done nothing for us so we don’t have to do anything for him.”  Glenn Thrush and Jonathan Allen write at Politico:

These days, Obama’s messaging is strikingly in tune with that of down-ballot Democrats. Yet there’s a nagging sense among some headed to Charlotte that Obama is an enthusiastic Democrat who remains oddly unenthusiastic about other Democrats.
“I’ve been on Air Force One twice — with George W. Bush,” said one Democratic lawmaker, representing the sentiment of a half-dozen prominent Democrats interviewed by POLITICO.
Few core Democratic constituencies have been spared the occasional collision with an Obama team many outside Democrats view as insular: congressional liberals and Blue Dogs alike, black candidates for statewide office, organized labor, environmentalists, gays and lesbians, state party organizers and even his handpicked chief of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who has clashed behind the scenes with Obama’s team.
Chris Kofinis, a onetime adviser to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — one of the red-purple state Democrats shunning Charlotte — compares the party under Obama to “my big Greek family … sometimes you’re close, sometimes you’re not. You’re still a family. … But as my mom often reminds me, ‘You know, it would be nice if you visited and called more.’”

Laura Meckler writes at The Wall Street Journal:
The Obama campaign is primarily focused on winning the 270 electoral votes needed to gain a second term. The president does almost no fundraising for Senate or House candidates and hasn't transferred money to other party election committees. His numerous campaign offices rarely coordinate with local candidates or display signs for anyone but Mr. Obama.
At rallies, Mr. Obama seldom urges supporters to volunteer—or even vote—for other Democrats running for office. Sometimes, he mentions other politicians in the room without noting that they are seeking re-election. He rarely shares the stage with other candidates.

Mr. Obama has good reason to distance himself from Congress. Only 12% of voters said they approved of its job performance in an August Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey, with 82% disapproving. Both those marks tied records for the poll, which has asked voter opinions of Congress since 1994.
The president's stance appears to suit some Democratic candidates just fine, particularly those in conservative states. Heidi Heitkamp, running for the Senate from North Dakota, has been openly critical of Mr. Obama and his policies. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana is among those skipping the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Roger Hickey, co-director of the liberal advocacy group Campaign for America's Future, sees risks in the president's approach. He says it will be all but impossible for Mr. Obama to accomplish his goals in a second term if he doesn't have a Democratic Congress.
"He has a rap he uses all the time on the campaign trail about this being the election that will break the stalemate in Washington. But when you look at it, it sounds like he's just talking about getting him re-elected," Mr. Hickey said. The better course, he said, would be for Mr. Obama to tell voters: "Send me a Congress that can do the big things that need to be done."