Some congressional Democrats refuse to back Obama
WASHINGTON & SANTA FE, NM (By ― Sen. Joe Lieberman was treated like an outcast back in 2008 when he broke from the Senate Democratic Caucus and openly opposed Barack Obama’s bid for the White House.November 14, 2011
Asked last week if he’d back Obama in 2012, the Connecticut independent said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.” This time around, there may be more Liebermans.
A number of moderate Democrats like Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar and liberals like Sen. Bernie Sanders are declining to give their unqualified support for the president, saying they’re either too focused on their own races or are calling on the White House to cater to their agendas before they will offer an endorsement. Some up for reelection in red states or in swing districts fear that even showing up on stage with Obama will give their opponents an image to seize upon — much as Democrats did in 2008 when they repeatedly flashed shots of Sen. John McCain hugging President George W. Bush.
So as the president faces the dual challenges of energizing his base while wooing moderates, some Democrats in Congress are keeping their distance, with the president’s approval rating hovering in the mid-40s — and even lower in states like West Virginia, where moderate Sen. Joe Manchin is up for reelection.
“I’m supporting the state of West Virginia and the people of West Virginia,” the freshman Democrat said, when asked if he backed the president’s reelection bid.
Informed West Virginia won’t be on the ballot next year, Manchin chuckled and said: “You don’t know that. You know something I don’t know?”
In the House, moderate Democrats have a tough calculation to make, a product of the volatile political landscape and a still-undefined presidential race. No matter how low the president’s approval ratings get, they tend to be higher than congressional Republicans. Some Democrats in the House will wait and see whom Obama is running against before they decide whom they’ll be running against — the president or his opponent.
With one year until voters decide their fate, many vulnerable Democrats are dancing around the issue of supporting the president.
Of more than a dozen congressional offices contacted in the moderate Blue Dog Caucus, only a handful were willing to comment on whether they supported Obama’s reelection bid.
Others, including Reps. Tim Holden and Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania, Ben Chandler of Kentucky, Jim Costa of California, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Jim Matheson of Utah, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina and Michael Michaud of Maine, declined repeated requests for comment on whether they will stump for the president or even support him in 2012.
Some are keeping their distance.
On a recent presidential trip to Pittsburgh to talk about jobs, Altmire was there to greet the president at the airport but didn’t stay for his visit.
When asked whether he intended to stump for the president next year, Cuellar, who represents a border area in Texas said, “No, I’m going to be concentrating on winning the Democratic majority.”
When asked whether he would back the president’s reelection bid, Cuellar said he was focused on his home state, instead.
“I’m going to be supporting the state Democratic Party ticket.”
A spokesman for Rep. John Barrow, a moderate Georgia Democrat, said, “We haven’t even thought about that yet” when asked if his boss would back Obama.
“John is focused on his own reelection, which is quite competitive at this point,” the spokesman said.
Obama also faces some skepticism from liberals in Congress who have grown tired of his efforts to seek compromise with the GOP through three years of legislative battles on Capitol Hill.
Sanders, the independent from Vermont who is revered on the left for his staunchly liberal views, initially refused to say in an interview whether he would back the president in 2012.
Instead, he turned serious and said he hoped “the president never forgets who elected him to the White House. It was not Wall Street, although they contributed. It was not the big money interests. It was working families, lower-income people and the middle class.”
He urged Obama to not cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, demand higher taxes from the rich and “stop reaching negotiated agreements with Republicans that are extremely weak and disadvantageous to ordinary people.”
In a subsequent interview, Sanders sought to temper his comments, saying, “I certainly hope and expect to be supporting the president, but it’s a little bit early in the process.”
He added if Obama stands up to the wealthy and helps the middle class and ordinary citizens, “he’ll be elected by a very strong vote.”
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt argued Mitt Romney, a potential GOP rival, was already dividing Republicans over his positions on home foreclosures and the auto industry rescue plan.
“Not only are Democrats unified in their opposition to the sorts of policies Mitt Romney has laid out: privatizing Medicare, gutting Social Security, letting Wall Street write its own rules again, and making middle-class families pay for tax breaks for large corporations, but even Republicans are running away from him,” LaBolt said.
To be sure, Obama still has support from many moderate Democrats, and that backing could very well grow once the general election campaign starts in earnest.
“My answer would be ‘Heck yes, indubitably.’ I will be out there campaigning wholeheartedly for Obama for 2012,” said Rep. Joe Baca, a California Blue Dog Democrat who said he would be a surrogate for the president. “I believe he’s done a great job in leading us in face of bitter partisan attacks.”
Baca said he and his fellow Democrats haven’t found much time to discuss what they would be doing for his reelection campaign.
Rep. Leonard Boswell, a moderate Democrat from Iowa, said he’d back Obama in 2012. “Considering the crisis he inherited from the Bush administration, he is doing the best anyone could and people see that,” Boswell said.
Said Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), “President Obama and I have not seen eye to eye on every issue, but I am a strong supporter of his reelection efforts and I look forward to continuing to work with him.”
Indeed, for some targeted Democrats who support the president, there’s a desire to keep their distance from Obama’s legislative agenda even while they back his reelection.
In these cases, red-state senators like Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Jon Tester of Montana are quick to point out where they differ from Obama.
“I have an election of my own, and I’m focused on that. But I believe that the president will run an outstanding reelection campaign and most likely will be reelected,” Nelson said. “It’s not about my support — I supported him last time, I still support him. We don’t have to agree on everything, and I don’t have to support him on every bill to say I support him for the president.”
“Yeah,” Tester said when asked whether he would back Obama. “Wish he changed his jobs bill a little — but yeah.”
Then Tester grinned and quickly added: “We ain’t stumping for anybody; we’re focused on moi.”