Obama Will Still Be a Presence on the Trail

Posted January 21, 2010 at 3:15pm

President Barack Obama incurred perhaps the worst political damage of his presidency with the loss of a Senate seat in deep blue Massachusetts last week. Republicans are characterizing that contest as a referendum on the president and his priorities, and even some Democrats believe the party has to do some inventory on its agenda.

But veteran political operatives agree that the Massachusetts result will probably do little to change Obama’s ability to campaign and raise money for Democrats this year.

Obama was already set to avoid places where he is unpopular, and as a new president who still commands a wide following and sparks the curiosity of friends and foes alike, there remain broad areas of the country where he can campaign successfully.

“The No. 1 campaigner and fundraiser has always been the president, and that’s not going to change,— Republican political strategist Carl Forti said. “Just because of the Democrats’ loss in Massachusetts does not mean Obama is going to cease to be a draw on the campaign trail. This shouldn’t really constrain his ability to help Democratic candidates.—

White House officials project a robust campaign season for the president that will find him traveling to moderately conservative and liberal areas alike.

White House senior adviser David Axelrod said that Obama will begin traveling for candidates during the winter and that the effort would “take off— in the spring when legislative activity starts to taper off.

Axelrod spoke before the GOP’s Massachusetts victory, though he was already aware the race would be close or possibly a loss.

He said Obama will work a cross-section of Congressional districts.

“I think that we will have a message that we can take to any part of this country,— Axelrod said. He added that the White House would seek to ensure that the election “will not be a referendum on the administration or one party.—

After the Massachusetts results were in, another White House official said he did not believe the defeat would change the way Obama is used on the campaign trail. This source noted that the very fact Obama traveled to the state shows the White House is not afraid to put him into a difficult situation.

The president will travel with politically embattled Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) next month in Nevada.

Several political strategists noted that the places where Obama should and should not go remain the same as they were before the Massachusetts contest.

“It’s not as if he was going to those Blue Dog districts when he was at the height of his popularity,— Democratic pollster John Anzalone said. “He’s not going to get his feelings hurt if he’s not invited into some Southern Blue Dog district.—

Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf said, “He’s popular in more places than not.—

Obama remains very strong with the Democratic base, Anzalone noted, and the sense that he is besieged could actually increase his effectiveness in getting them ginned up.

“When a president is in a weakened state, the base is often like a protective mother,— Anzalone said. “It rallies around him.—

And strategists agreed that Obama’s weakened state and the Democrats’ Massachusetts fiasco would have no impact on the president’s ability to raise money for candidates.

“People will still want to touch him, to have their pictures taken with him,— said Forti, the GOP strategist. “The president is the world’s No. 1 money draw.—

Forti noted that this was especially true because it is still Obama’s first term.

“By Bush’s second term, all the major donors had had their pictures taken with Bush and Cheney,— he said.

If he is not popular in a district or state, he can raise money in a hotel room in Washington, D.C., or an airport hangar.

One veteran Democratic strategist noted that aides to President Ronald Reagan, who was deeply unpopular during the 1982 midterm elections, had some success stemming their losses by persuading Republicans not to run away from the president.

He suggested that Democrats will look out of touch by trying to run on local issues and shying away from national issues that are on everyone’s mind.

While House Republicans lost 27 seats in 1982, the result was not as bad as some comparable midterms for a president’s party in the second year of an administration. And Republican Senators kept their numbers even.

Officials from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee did not respond to requests for comment.