Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Show Me State temporarily became the No-Show State on Wednesday as some prominent Missouri Democrats decided they’d rather be somewhere else when President Obama came to push his massive health care overhaul plan.

Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, the all-but-certain Democratic nominee for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Christopher S. “Kit” Bond, was “already locked in” to meetings in Washington, D.C., on Wall Street financial reforms, said her spokesman, Linden Zakula, who downplayed her absence for Mr. Obama’s visit to St. Charles, just outside St. Louis.

“Yes, she could have been there, but she feels very strongly about the need for financial regulatory reform,” Mr. Zakula said. “We’ve got eight months to go. … I’m sure we’ll be seeing him out on the campaign trail this fall.”

But her spokesman didn’t mention that Mrs. Carnahan was also in Washington for a Tuesday night $5,000-a-plate fundraiser at the home of Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, who most recently made headlines for the secret backroom deal known as the “Louisiana Purchase,” which would send $300 million in additional Medicaid taxpayer funding to her state.

Rep. Ike Skelton, one of 39 House Democrats who voted against the party’s health care overhaul bill in December, also skipped the presidential stop in his home state. Mr. Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, was taking part in a House floor debate on the future of the war in Afghanistan.

In addition, Rep. Russ Carnahan, a Democrat from St. Louis and Mrs. Carnahan’s brother, skipped the event, even though it was in his home district.

Meanwhile, Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat and an early supporter of Mr. Obama’s during his campaign who is not up for re-election until 2012, accompanied the president aboard Air Force One to the St. Louis event. Mr. Obama also scheduled a fundraising event for Mrs. McCaskill before returning to Washington.

The event could be an early sign of the draw of Mr. Obama’s coattails on the campaign trail and whether the president will be seen as an asset or drawback for his party in what polls suggest will be a difficult midterm battle for Democrats.

The Missouri Republican Party mocked Mrs. Carnahan’s absence, saying she certainly should have taken the opportunity to bask in the high-profile visit just eight months before the vote.

“Barack Obama should be campaigning his heart out for Robin Carnahan - after all, Carnahan has pledged to rubber-stamp his agenda of a government takeover of health care, job-killing cap-and-tax, the failed stimulus bill and much more,” said Lloyd Smith, executive director of the Missouri Republican Party.

“But maybe Obama sees the writing on the wall and realizes that Carnahan is way too liberal for Missouri,” he said. “It appears that the White House has written off the Carnahan campaign. We are not aware of another example of the president ignoring a U.S. Senate candidate on the ballot in less than eight months and instead raising money for someone who is not up for re-election until 2012.”

The Carnahan campaign seemed a bit miffed at the setup, saying that the planned fundraiser was an “Obama-McCaskill event.” Asked why Mr. Obama is raising funds for a 2012 candidate, Mr. Zakula said: “You’ll have to ask the White House.”

A White House official who asked that his name not be used would not comment on whether Mrs. Carnahan was invited to the St. Charles event or why Mr. Obama was holding a fundraiser for a 2012 candidate. The official did say that Mrs. Carnahan “has expressed interest in holding an event with the president, and conversations are under way about getting that scheduled. We’re looking forward to it.”

A Democratic strategist said Mr. Obama has his eye on his own re-election campaign in 2012 as he holds events around the country leading up to the November midterm elections. But that may not help some candidates in swing states.

“The problem for candidates running in states like Missouri in 2010 is the Democrats are not responding to Obama the way they did in 2008 and it reminds independents why they are so angry,” said Mary Anne Marsh.

Missouri belied its historically bellwether moniker in 2008, failing to pick the presidential winner for only the second time since 1904. Republican Sen. John McCain narrowly defeated Mr. Obama, winning by just more than 3,900 votes out of about 2.9 million cast. A Rasmussen poll in February showed Mr. Obama’s approval rating at just 40 percent in Missouri.

The same conspicuous absences occurred Monday in Pennsylvania, a state Mr. Obama won by 10 percentage points in 2008.

While the president was accompanied by embattled Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter, Sen. Bob Casey and Rep. Chaka Fattah aboard Air Force One, several other Pennsylvania Democrats didn’t elect to join him there, including Reps. Patrick J. Murphy, Christopher Carney and Tim Holden, three incumbents facing tough re-election battles.

Mrs. Carnahan, the daughter of former Sen. Jean Carnahan and former Gov. Mel Carnahan, faces little opposition in her primary Aug. 3, facing a virtual unknown, Francis Vangeli, who has voiced opposition to the Obama health care plan.

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