Former President Obama is all fired up to hit the campaign trail for Democratic candidates this fall. The trouble is there are more than a few that are not interested.
Obama has kept well below the radar the past two years since leaving office. He only occasionally surfaces for some fundraiser or photos taken of him on some wealthy industrialist’s mega-ship.
But he now plans to hit the campaign trail for Democrats in their quest to take back the House, protect vulnerable Senate incumbents and win state legislative races. But is he the man to do all that?
That remains to be seen, but nevertheless he will deliver a speech on Friday at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Then it’s on to California, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The problem is that Democratic candidates running in states that President Trump won by double digits in 2016 are far from interested in re-introducing the man that very likely was the reason Trump won the presidency. Millions of Americans thought the country was going in the wrong direction.
Candidates like Sens. Jon Tester (Mont.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), want to keep the race locked on the battle between themselves and their state rivals. Their fear is Obama will be nothing but a distraction.
Obama remains popular with most of the Democratic base, but his mere presence could incite the pro-Trump voters. Trump is very aware he can excite the conservatives to trudge to the ballot box.
Obama may be valuable to get infrequent voters to the polls. Democrats have been pressing hard to keep laws on the books to allow those voters to come back to the fold.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), delicately said the party “welcomes” Obama to help out, but noted individual candidates need to invite him to their states.
Obama held a fundraiser in May for Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who is running in a state Trump won by 19 points. But it appears she has little to lose having the former president in her state.
Obama has held off endorsing Democratic senators running in states won by Trump. He has not endorsed Sherrod Brown (D), the incumbent senator from Ohio.
Democratic sources say Obama will campaign with Sen. Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, even though the former president didn’t include him on the list of candidates from the Keystone State he endorsed last month. Whatever the reason, it says volumes about Casey’s hopeful support elsewhere among the electorate.
The reason may be that Trump carried both Ohio and Pennsylvania over Hillary Clinton in 2016. He won Ohio by 8 points and Pennsylvania by less than 1 point.
The truth is that Obama’s endorsement in state and local races is less likely to hurt Democratic candidates because those contests are often less partisan than federal races. Compare that to the GOP’s strategy in hot Senate races in red states. They plan to tie centrist Democratic incumbents to party leaders like Pelosi and Schumer in Washington.
Obama most likely will not endorse senators like Tester and Heitkamp. His pat on the back is utterly useless in Montana and North Dakota and probably would costs votes.