- The Washington Times - Monday, June 21, 2010

In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama’s political coattails extended across the country. But heading into this year’s midterm elections, Democrats face a tricky task of where to deploy their party chief on the campaign trail as they try to hang onto majorities in both houses of Congress.

President Obama’s record over the past 17 months has been mixed: His party won a series of special House elections, but he put himself on the line as Democrats lost a pair of high-profile gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia. Then there was the special senatorial election in Massachusetts, where even a personal last-minute pitch by the president couldn’t stop Republican Scott Brown from winning the seat long held by liberal lion Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

Still, even as poll numbers have dropped from their lofty post-inauguration levels, campaigns have requested varying levels of involvement from Mr. Obama — from large rallies and local fundraisers to smaller, more targeted efforts such as “robocalls” in a certain part of a district. And there are places like California, where Mr. Obama is both a big draw and a stellar fundraiser, racking up as much as $1.5 million in his last visit on behalf of incumbent Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer

 “I think you can pretty much follow the red-blue map there,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor for the Cook Political Report. “Obviously, he can be an asset in places like Illinois, California, certainly Connecticut, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Washington state, he can go to all those places … he probably should not go to Indiana.”

In that state, Rep. Brad Ellsworth, the Democratic nominee to replace retiring Sen. Evan Bayh, is positioning himself as a moderate trying to replace another moderate in a state that’s usually red, but went narrowly for Mr. Obama over Republican Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. 

Whether Mr. Ellsworth will ask Mr. Obama to stump for him is a popular topic in Indiana. On his website, the Republican candidate, former Sen. Dan Coats, has repeatedly dared Mr. Ellsworth’s campaign to invite the commander in chief, pointing to disapproval numbers among voters in the Hoosier State that are higher than the national average. The Ellsworth campaign has told local media outlets the president is welcome at any time.

The Obama question is particularly sensitive for candidates running as outsiders in the face of strong anti-Washington sentiment this election cycle.

Even in the reliably blue state of Connecticut, the presumed Democratic senatorial candidate, state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, was unsure in February whether he would ask Mr. Obama for a hand.

“I can’t comment at this point,” he told the New Haven Independent, when asked whether the president would be a boon to or a drag on his campaign.

The Democratic Senate nominee in Kentucky, state Attorney General Jack Conway, said he plans to “win this election on my own,” when asked earlier this month whether he would ask for the president’s help, according to the Associated Press. In Louisiana, Blue Dog Democrat Rep. Charlie Melancon, who is challenging Republican incumbent Sen. David Vitter, appeared alongside Mr. Obama during a visit to survey the response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but has stressed that he vehemently opposes the administration’s six-month blanket moratorium on deepwater drilling that is unpopular in the state.

Asked about plans for Mr. Obama’s deployment this fall, a White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, would only promise that the president’s campaign efforts “will take him to all parts of the country.”

Mr. Obama, like President George W. Bush before him, can prove a potent fundraiser for candidates at private events for committed party members, even if a more public appearance is not on the schedule.

 The White House official noted that Mr. Obama will “help to raise the funds necessary to run competitive campaigns.”

The Democratic National Committee is doing all it can to capitalize on Mr. Obama’s popularity among Democrats this fall as a party official concedes they face a strong historical precedent for midterm losses by the party that has just captured the White House.

“We understand that our efforts are not going to be a panacea to overcome the tide of history, but we can stem it somewhat with these efforts if we use our money and resources strategically,” the official said, referring to get-out-the-vote efforts by the party’s Organizing For America grass-roots network. Indeed, the official said the group is expanding its reach, with 20 percent of last year’s online donations coming from new donors who did not contribute in 2008.

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