You might think President Obama has come down with swine flu the way red-state Democrats are keeping a distance. When Mr. Obama flew to North Carolina State University for a job-creation photo op last week, Sen. Kay R. Hagan’s name was conspicuously absent from Air Force One’s flight manifest. Facing a tough re-election fight this fall, the freshman senator insisted she couldn’t make the day trip because she had to stay in Washington and “attend to Senate business.”
Even the traveling press didn’t buy it. One correspondent called her excuse “the congressional equivalent of, ‘I can’t go, I have to wash my hair.’” A few years ago when the president went to Asheville, N.C., for a campaign stop, Mrs. Hagan dropped everything to stand at his side and beam a proud smile. She even took a plane to hurry back to Washington in time for a vote.
She was happy to be swept into office along with Mr. Obama in 2008 when a Democratic presidential candidate carried North Carolina for the first time in 32 years. She was so pleased to be an Obama Democrat that she has voted for his agenda 96 percent of the time, which seemed a good idea at the time. But a brisk wind can shift.
A new poll out Jan. 14 shows her job-disapproval rating 10 percentage points below approval, and Mrs. Hagan is running away from the president as fast as her legs can carry her. His job approval in North Carolina is tanking just like hers. Disapproval of the senator closely tracks that of Obamacare, too, which is 10 percentage points less than approval in the Public Policy Polling survey. In hypothetical matchups with the five Republicans vying to run against her, Mrs. Hagan trails two of them by one point each and the three others by two points each.
Like other red-state Senate Democrats up for re-election and running scared in Alaska, Arkansas and Louisiana, Mrs. Hagan doesn’t want Mr. Obama to come within sneezing distance, not now, not until after Nov. 4. “This race is not about the president,” she insisted in an interview with Politico, the Capitol Hill daily. But when she was asked whether she would vote for Obamacare again if she could turn back the calendar, she replied, “Yeah, I would vote for it again. People have to realize that the cost of health care was getting out of reach for everybody.” That won’t make sense to the 473,000 of her constituents who lost the health care she and the president assured them they could keep.
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana is distancing herself, too, if ever so subtly. Seeking a fourth term, she opened her campaign in December with a 30-second TV spot in which she urges Mr. Obama to clean up his Obamacare mess. “I’m fixing it,” she says. “… And I’ve urged the president to fix it.”
Ms. Landrieu, who has never won with more than 52.1 percent of the vote, may have a tough time selling that to Louisiana voters, given her earlier enthusiastic support of Obamacare. She told Politico only 10 months ago: “I am proud of my support for the Affordable Care Act … . I voted for it, I’m glad I voted for it.” The record, alas, can be unforgiving, especially when it’s in print.