Democrats Pleased to Find Obama on the Trail

Posted September 22, 2010 at 6:34pm

President Barack Obama is shifting his focus from governing to helping his party on the campaign trail — a move that Democrats could not be happier about.

A White House schedule once packed with meetings with Congressional leaders and constituencies is now being filled out with campaign events for Democratic lawmakers and candidates in need of a boost, plus fundraisers for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee. Obama’s most recent headliner was Wednesday night in New York, where he spoke at two DSCC/DCCC events.

“Members think he is great when he is in campaign mode as opposed to governing mode,” said a House Democratic leadership aide, who noted the “rave reviews” Obama received for a speech he delivered at a Congressional Black Caucus event Saturday.

“The Members want him out more and more,” the aide said.

A look at Obama’s record over the past several months reveals which Democrats are getting most of the president’s attention. He has paid three visits to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) since February, more than any other Senator, and headlined two fundraisers for Sen. Barbara Boxer (Calif.).

The president has also stumped for Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.) and Michael Bennet (Colo.), as well as Senate candidates Robin Carnahan (Colo.), Alexi Giannoulias (Ill.), Kendrick Meek (Fla.) and Joe Sestak (Pa.), among others.

And many Democrats are only going to be pressing harder to share the stage with Obama in the weeks leading up to the election.

Earlier in the cycle, there were questions about how welcome Obama would be in red states and districts, but those concerns seem to have dissipated.

“The requests are going to start increasing significantly,” said a source familiar with DCCC activities.

“There aren’t just going to be requests for traveling. People are going to request recording radio and television ads, being in robocalls. [The White House] is going to have to be faster than before September” in dispatching Obama to where he is needed the most, the source said.

[IMGCAP(1)]The source said the DCCC plays “a very large role” in influencing the White House when it comes to deciding which lawmakers and candidates will get a visit from the president.

But that does not mean Democrats cannot make individual requests of the White House to send in a political heavyweight to give their campaign a boost. A number of first- and second-term lawmakers will be making requests for visits in the coming weeks, both individually and through the DCCC.

“They’ll reach out to anyone who’s going to listen to them,” said the source.

A White House official said numerous Democratic factors play a role in deciding where Obama will stump.

“We work to coordinate the activity with the vice president and first lady’s staffs and go where it can have the most positive impact. There are requests from campaigns and committees every day that we sort through,” the official said.

The requests for visits will not apply only to Obama. Several senior Democratic aides said Members are thrilled to see first lady Michelle Obama hitting the campaign trail. In addition, Vice President Joseph Biden has “done a ton, and Members really like having him,” one aide said. Biden has made recent campaign appearances with Reps. John Spratt (S.C.) and Kurt Schrader (Ore.), among others.

The White House has also been moving quickly to add events to Obama’s schedule, including two more events this month in Florida and Minnesota.

But one senior House Democratic aide voiced some concern that Obama may be focusing his attention only on the people who voted with him instead of people who may have a better chance at surviving.

“Does he have the fire in his belly to keep the House and get out on the campaign trail consistently and constantly over the next 40 days?” the aide asked.

Those who have scored visits from Obama and Biden said their presence has brought only good things. Sestak, for one, may be the only Democrat who will have shared a stage with Obama, Biden and former President Bill Clinton. Recent polls show he trails his GOP challenger, former Rep. Pat Toomey, by 8 points.

“We’re honored that the president, as well as the vice president, would do an event with Joe. President Clinton has also effectively laid out the choice in this race between Joe’s problem-solving approach from a 31-year military career, and Congressman Toomey’s view that what’s best for Wall Street and large corporations is best for the middle class,” Sestak spokesman Jonathon Dworkin said.

Dworkin noted that Obama’s decision to campaign for Sestak marks a turning point in their relationship.

Before Sestak became the Democratic nominee, the White House asked Clinton to persuade Sestak to abandon the primary race against incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter by raising the possibility of an unpaid administration position — an offer Sestak refused.

“They weren’t on his side of the primary,” Dworkin said.

Reid spokesman Jon Summers said the fact that Obama has stumped for him numerous times shows that the president “clearly recognizes” that “no one works harder on behalf of struggling families in Nevada.”

The Boxer campaign has even more White House visits on tap.

“It has been great to have President Obama campaign for us in California,” said Rose Kapolczynski, Boxer’s campaign manager. And coming up in October, “we’re excited to have Mrs. Obama join us.”