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Freshmen Run Away From Obama

The House Democratic freshmen who rose to power riding then-candidate Barack Obama’s coattails are now eager to strut their independence heading into the midterms.

Some rookies opposed Obama’s cap-and-trade climate change bill; others rejected his health care plan. But even those Members who backed all of the president’s signature initiatives are ready to show that they can win their first re-election bids without leaning on Obama’s star power.

“You have to be an independent, no matter what,” Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper said. The Pennsylvania Democrat pointed to her vote against the climate change bill, which she said is an economic loser for southwest Pennsylvania, and her fight for abortion funding restrictions in the health care bill as evidence of her independence.

Dahlkemper said that while she would be “very happy to welcome” Obama to her district, she didn’t know how much of a help or a hindrance he would be.

“I just think we don’t quite know yet where his popularity is,” she said.

“The best thing I can do is get out and shake hands and look people in the eye,” she said. “They want to see me and they want to know what I’m doing. ... I’m much less concerned about who’s going to come in and campaign for me.”

Rep. Betsy Markey, who voted against the House health care bill but ultimately voted for the final plan, said she didn’t think it would make much difference either way if the president stumped in her district.

“It’s always an honor when the president makes an offer to visit. But this is a Colorado race,” the Democrat said.

Nearly all freshman Democrats embraced Obama’s broad economic plan as soon as they came to office — and that includes last year’s $787 billion stimulus package that cut taxes and increased spending in an unprecedented effort to blunt the recession. Republicans have been aggressively attacking Democrats for that vote ever since, accusing them of endorsing out-of-control Washington spending while failing to stay focused on jobs and the economy.

In an e-mail sent Friday to the districts of more than a dozen freshman Democrats, National Republican Congressional Committee Communications Director Ken Spain blasted them for “running scared” from their state’s unemployment problems and cited the “failed trillion-dollar stimulus flop” as proof that they are out of touch.

But first-term Democrats may be looking at newly minted Rep. Mark Critz for inspiration. The Pennsylvania Democrat performed better than expected in last week’s special election to replace the late Rep. John Murtha (D) — and he did so by running as an independent-minded Democrat who is pro-gun, anti-abortion and against Obama’s health care plan.

“At the end of the day, each of us is judged by what we’ve done,” Rep. Tom Perriello said.

Obama didn’t carry the Virginia Democrat’s district in 2008, but Perriello has voted for all of the president’s signature issues. He said he is “proud to have stood with him” on legislation he agreed with and would welcome a joint appearance with the president in his district — even though some of his constituents may not be Obama’s biggest fans.

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