Who’s afraid of big, bad Barack Obama? It may well be that some House Democrats are—at least in terms of how he affects their re-election prospects. Democrats are more scared about appearing with Obama than Republicans are with Romney, top GOPers say—and it’s a charge the Democrats’ top House campaigner didn’t deny. Ultimately, however, it may not matter.
That was one of the take-aways I got from a pair of press breakfasts I attended this week, with the chairs of the two parties’ House campaign committees. For all the talk of conservative discontent with Mitt Romney, “I know of not one Republican candidate who would not appear publicly with Mitt Romney and I know of many Democrats that don’t even want to be in the same city, forget the same stage, with president Obama,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas said Wednesday morning. He added that were Democratic House members should all asked if they would appear with Obama, “you will be shocked” by the responses, he said, “It will not be 100 percent.”
This was in the immediate wake of Obama’s losing 40 percent of the West Virginia primary vote to an incarcerated felon, and Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, Sessions’s committee deputy, pointed as an example to Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, where a federal inmate currently incarcerated in Texas took 40 percent of the Democratic primary vote and a half dozen counties against President Obama. “Is Nick Rahall going to invite President Obama to West Virginia?” he asked. By contrast, the two men argued, Romney’s Massachusetts roots will give Republicans in the Northeast a boost. They talked up Massachusetts Rep. John Tierney’s seat as a possible take-over opportunity with Romney Massachusetts coattails pulling the seat into the red column (a long-shot probability, with Tierney’s district having a +7 Partisan Voting Index for the Democrats, according to the Cook Report).
On Thursday morning Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel of New York didn’t bother trying to deny Sessions’s charge. “Look,” he said, “every candidate in my view, runs their own campaign, makes their own decisions, and will reach their own judgments.” In other words: No, not all Democrats are going to be comfortable running with their top dog. (He also took a shot at his House GOP counterpart: “The question is whether Mitt Romney wants to appear with any House Republicans … Has Pete taken a look at the polling on House Republicans lately? I think Mitt Romney probably has.”)
But that also speaks to the makeups of the two parties, however. The fact is that, even with all the Blue Dogs who got wiped out in tough districts in 2010, Democrats have done a good job recruiting candidates that reflect their districts. That the president is further to the left than some members of his party bespeaks partisan breadth, not partisan weakness.
One issue where this plays out is gay marriage. Israel said that he doesn’t expect it to be “a huge dynamic in a specific congressional race” because candidates shouldn’t feel obliged to defend Obama if their district is against marriage equality. “If they disagree with the president on that issue, then they should show daylight with him,” Israel said, adding, “The only thing we have said to them is if you agree with the president state your agreement, if you disagree state your disagreement. Be clear, let people know how you feel, and move on.”