President Obama knows where he's welcome. In his final push toward Election Day, he rounded off his "Moving America Forward" tour with rallies in friendly venues—Philadelphia, Bridgeport, Conn., his hometown of Chicago, and Cleveland—featuring hip-hop celebrities like Common and Russell Simmons. He is also targeting his Democratic base, specifically youth and African-American voters, through radio and television appearances like last week's Daily Show stint. But in some battleground races around the country, Democratic candidates have been passive, or even downright hostile, about the president's influence on their campaigns.
With approval ratings around 46 percent, according to RealClearPolitics's poll average, Obama is proving a mixed blessing in the midterms and his absence is notable in some key races. "You don't bring in the president unless you want to nationalize the election," explains Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, adding, "Republicans want to nationalize the election. Democrats don't."
Earlier this year, when Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet faced a tough primary, Obama worked hard on his behalf, campaigning with him and recording a robocall just before the primary. But lately, as Bennet finds himself in a very tight general election battle with Republican Ken Buck, the president's kept a low profile among Rocky Mountain voters. And with good reason: Among likely voters in Colorado, Obama's approval rating is only 41 percent, according to a recent survey by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic research firm. The president hasn't totally abandoned the race, instead limiting his influence to party supporters. On Thursday night, Obama joined a conference call with Colorado Democrats, urging them to continue with get-out-the-vote efforts on behalf of Bennet. "I think the president should be in places around the country where it will be helpful," Bennet told CNN last week. "We are running this race about facts on the ground."
The pushback against Obama is most pronounced in states where he wasn't all that popular to begin with. Take West Virginia, which Obama lost in 2008 to GOP presidential nominee John McCain, 56 percent to 43 percent. Democratic candidate Gov. Joe Manchin has aggressively distanced himself from the president in his Senate race against Republican businessman John Raese. In a television ad, Manchin literally shoots a bullet through the cap-and-trade bill, a top administration agenda item.
According to the polling firm, voters give Manchin a 70 percent approval rating for his job as governor, and he had been viewed as a lock to win the seat until Raese linked him to the president, calling him "Rubber Stamp Joe." Obama's approval rating in the state is 31 percent, according to Public Policy Polling. "Politics are local, and [Manchin is] doing what he needs to do to represent his state," a top Democratic strategist said of the governor. Other Democrats, like Texas Rep. Chet Edwards and Pennsylvania Rep. Jason Altmire, have also run ads boasting their independence from the party and from the president specifically. "Chet stood up to" Obama, one ad recounts, bragging that he voted against the "trillion dollar healthcare bill."
Ultimately, it will make little difference to Obama whether candidates come to Washington having run with him or against him, as long as they ran as Democrats.