Trailed by a litany of scandals, President Barack Obama is pressing ahead with efforts to boost Democrats Wednesday in Boston and Miami, raising questions about whether the second-term president will be more asset or liability to his party in the coming election season.
Indeed, during his first stop in Massachusetts for senatorial candidate Rep. Ed Markey, liberal activists gathered outside to protest Obama’s inaction on the Keystone XL pipeline:
The president’s next stop will be in Miami in the evening to raise cash for the Democratic Party at two private homes.
Each stop hopes that Obama can energize Democrats to the party’s cause this year and next, with control of Congress and the president’s second-term agenda at stake. But the visits also create opportunities for Republicans eager to link their Democrat opponents to the Obama administration’s recent troubles, like a string of high-profile controversies involving the Internal Revenue Service and government surveillance programs.
Again, in deep blue Massachusetts, there are signs of modest declines in his popularity as Republicans seize on the White House’s struggles in the special election to replace John Kerry and in nascent campaigns across the nation.
“We hope that the president thinks he’s going to be an asset, and goes all over the place,” Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said. “When you look at how the candidates are reacting, so far the early ones are running away fast.”
Rep. Ed Markey, the Democratic hopeful in Massachusetts, last week criticized the government’s massive collection of personal phone and Internet records, even as Obama defended the practice. The disclosures about the National Security Agency surveillance came with the administration already facing questions over the IRS’ improper targeting of conservative groups, the seizure of journalists’ phone records, and the handling of the attack in Benghazi, Libya last year that left four Americans dead.
At a minimum, the shift in the president’s popularity complicates his promise to go all out for the party in the 2014 elections, mindful that sending more Democrats to Congress could be the difference between success and failure for key aspects of his second-term agenda such as immigration, climate change, and a budget deal.
Further complicating the issue is the fact that Obama probably won’t attend many rallies in other places like Louisiana, Arkansas and West Virginia, where Democrats are defending Senate seats in conservative-friendly territory.
“Every candidate has to make their own decision,” said David Plouffe, who ran Obama’s 2008 campaign. “You don’t force yourself on a campaign. If they want the help, they’re going to ask.”
So, no, vulnerable Democrats in red states have yet to ask President Obama for help. What does that tell you?
Plouffe said the White House understands that Democrats in deep-red states will need to distance themselves publicly from Obama on some issues. But even in those states, they may want to take advantage of the vaunted Obama machine.
“We have a lot of volunteers in every state of the country,” Plouffe said. “Those volunteers are still an underappreciated secret weapon in terms of how we won.”
Democratic operatives involved with 2013 elections in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Virginia privately concede that the White House’s struggles have been a distraction but still welcomed White House assistance — particularly with fundraising.
Other White House stars have been helpful as well. In addition to Biden, first lady Michelle Obama has hosted finance events for Markey and Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe.
“President Obama has won Virginia twice, has a unique ability to express to voters the stakes of this election, and we’d certainly want him to campaign with us,” McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin said.
Other Democrats were not so sure.
The pro-Republican group America Rising PAC last week distributed a video of Arizona Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, a Democrat, repeatedly refusing to say whether she would campaign with Obama.
“There’s a lot of frustration with the administration now,” Kirkpatrick said in a local television interview.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.