President Obama isn’t running away from vulnerable Democrats.
Obama’s trip to North Carolina on Tuesday, where he embraced Sen. Kay HaganKay Hagan Former Sen. Kay Hagan in ICU after being rushed to hospital GOP senator floats retiring over gridlock 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map MORE (D-N.C.) on the tarmac of Charlotte’s airport, is just the latest example of Obama flying into a state where a Democratic senator is facing a tough reelection bid.
But the White House and Democrats shrug off suggestions that the trips cause that much harm to the party, and they say that while Obama isn’t making a point of going to places where the battle for the Senate will be fought, he’s not trying to avoid them either.
“As gleeful as Republicans are to trot out ‘more Obama, more Obama,’ I think they are sorely mistaken on the effectiveness of that,” one national Democratic source said. “It’s not 2010 again.”
Republicans won back the House majority that year just months after Congress approved Obama’s healthcare law — a wave election that saw Democrats narrowly hold on to the Senate.
Obama’s national poll numbers this year are lagging again, leading to fears that Obama will be a drag on his party despite an improving economy — and signs that the healthcare law is becoming more popular.
Hagan took a mixed approach with Obama, releasing an advance copy of her speech to the American Legion national convention criticizing his work on veterans healthcare but then showing up at the airport to receive a presidential peck on the check.
By both criticizing and embracing the president, Hagan portrayed herself as an independent voice for her state even as she sends the signal to the Democratic base that she’s with Obama.
Just as Republicans are seeking to fire up their base voters by amplifying concerns about Obama, Democrats are trying to get their base out in the fall by appealing to women and African-American voters.
Obama remains very popular with black voters, who could greatly help Hagan this fall.
Candidates can cause themselves more trouble by seeking to distance themselves from Obama, argued Democratic consultant Bob Shrum. He said that if Hagan had “dissed” Obama, “that would create a lot of problems for her, especially with the base.”
Still, other candidates have focused more on distancing themselves from Obama than embracing him.
When Obama visited Colorado for a speech on the economy and a fundraiser benefiting the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee last month, Sen. Mark UdallMark UdallLive coverage: Tillerson's hearing for State The rise and possible fall of the ‘Card’ in politics Gardner's chief of staff tapped for Senate GOP campaign director MORE (D-Colo.), who was scheduled to join the president at the event, decided at the last minute to remain in Washington to cast his vote for Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro's confirmation.
Late last year, Sen. Mary LandrieuMary LandrieuFive unanswered questions after Trump's upset victory Pavlich: O’Keefe a true journalist Trump’s implosion could cost GOP in Louisiana Senate race MORE (D-La.) joined Obama aboard Air Force One for his trip to her state, but didn’t attend Obama’s event on infrastructure spending.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellSenate confirms first nominees of Trump era The new Washington elite schmoozes over lunch Trump takes first official acts at signing ceremony MORE (R-Ky.) dared Obama to visit his home state earlier this month. McConnell is holding a narrow lead over Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Democratic strategists have been open in saying that first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle ObamaMichael Reagan: Trump's fighting words rattle Washington Michelle Obama inauguration reactions become Twitter meme Hillary Clinton holds head high as Trump takes office MORE, who is tremendously popular according to public opinion polls, could be more helpful to candidates on the campaign trail. There have been complaints from Democrats that the first lady is not appearing enough.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest dismissed concerns the president would be a drag, saying Obama could even prove a benefit to Hagan.
Earnest said the president had consistently out-performed expectations in North Carolina, demonstrating “a pretty deep reservoir of political support.” He also argued that the president’s economic policies were an easy sell in the state, with federal dollars underwriting programs in the state’s famed research triangle.
“There are any number of reasons why the president has strong support here in the state of North Carolina,” Earnest said. “And if there’s an opportunity for the president to lend some of that support to Senator Hagan’s campaign, then he won’t hesitate to do it.”
Democrats say Hagan’s race will come down to Hagan and GOP opponent Thom Tillis.
“People in North Carolina have already seen millions of dollars in campaign ads saying Kay Hagan votes with Barack ObamaBarack ObamaBaker: Inaugural committee wanted us to 're-create' Obama cake Women's march brings higher Metro ridership than inauguration Celebrity chef: Trump inauguration copied my cake for Obama MORE,” the national Democrat said. “But this election is going to be about her record and [opponent] Thom Tillis’ record.”
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Justin Barasky said the president’s visit might even provide Hagan a boost.
“Democrats are happy to have a focus in North Carolina on veterans, especially because the agenda that Speaker Tillis is pushing shows how wrong he is for veterans and their families in that state,” he said.
Republicans, for their part, signaled Tuesday that they think their best move is to play up Obama’s connections to Democratic candidates in the hope he’s the anchor who will weigh them down.
They dismissed suggestions from Democrats that Obama’s trips to North Carolina and other states hosting tough Senate races could be helpful.
“If what Democrats say is true, we look forward to Obama hugging every Democrat on the tarmac over the next 70 days,” said National Republican Senate Committee spokeswoman Brook Hougesen. “If these attacks don't work, why aren't Democrats demanding Obama come to their states?"