President Obama will kick off his midterm campaign push in October, according to senior administration officials, with events benefitting individual vulnerable Democratic candidates.
Obama will ramp up his public campaign efforts on behalf of congressional Democrats, but — in a possible acknowledgement of the president's flagging approval ratings — the effort will be less intensive than what former President George W. Bush undertook during the 2002 midterm election cycle. That fall, Bush made more than 40 campaign speeches for dozens of congressional candidates.
One senior administration official said there was a clear path for Democrats to hold the Senate, and that the White House was encouraged that every toss-up race remains within the margin of error. The official said Republican chances of a pick-up in the Michigan open-seat race were fading, while vulnerable senators like Sens. Mark BegichMark BegichThe future of the Arctic 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map Trump campaign left out of Alaska voter guide MORE (D-Alaska) and Kay HaganKay HaganGOP senator floats retiring over gridlock 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map The untold stories of the 2016 battle for the Senate MORE (D-N.C.) were maintaining narrow leads. Meanwhile, Democratic nominee Rep. Bruce BraleyBruce BraleyTrump: Ernst wanted 'more seasoning' before entertaining VP offer Criminal sentencing bill tests McConnell-Grassley relationship Trump's VP list shrinks MORE has taken a slim lead in Iowa, according to a White House official.
The White House is also not concerned about polls indicating that Sen. Jeanne Shaheen Jeanne ShaheenDems push for panel to probe Russian interference in election Hoyer pushes White House for briefing on Russian election interference This Week in Cybersecurity: Dems press for information on Russian hacks MORE's (D-N.H.) lead over former Massachusetts GOP Sen. Scott Brown appeared to be eroding, dismissing recent surveys as an aberration.
In the Senate, Democrats are defending 21 of the 36 seats up this fall, and election watchers widely expect the party to lose seats as it protects a fragile six-seat majority. Democrats in red states like South Dakota, West Virginia and Montana have retired, and Sens. Mark PryorMark PryorCotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Top Democrats are no advocates for DC statehood MORE (Ark.) and Mary LandrieuMary LandrieuFive unanswered questions after Trump's upset victory Pavlich: O’Keefe a true journalist Trump’s implosion could cost GOP in Louisiana Senate race MORE (La.) also face tough races.
The White House maintains that the president was never expecting to campaign until October, and that recent foreign policy events have not distracted from the economic messaging the party hoped to promote ahead of the midterms. In fact, officials believe there is plenty of time to return the national discussion to the economy ahead of the midterm elections, they said.
They also say not to expect the president to highlight his response to recent foreign policy crises on the campaign trail. And the White House appears confident that the president's decision to punt on an executive action on immigration reform has neutralized the issue for the midterms, with one official saying that GOP arguments on amnesty and immigration haven't been resonating in the polls.
The official also argued Republicans were struggling to come up with a theme for their midterm campaign.
Despite the confidence emanating from the administration, there is concern from Democrats that the president will drag down their reelection hopes.
Landrieu and Hagan did not travel with Obama to recent visits to their home states, and Begich told CNN he was "not really interested in campaigning" with the president. Sen. Mark UdallMark UdallGardner's chief of staff tapped for Senate GOP campaign director The untold stories of the 2016 battle for the Senate Colorado GOP Senate race to unseat Dem incumbent is wide open MORE (D-Colo.) canceled his appearance with Obama at a joint fundraiser in his home state, opting instead to remain in Washington to cast his vote for Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro's confirmation.
A poll released last month by McClatchy found that, by a 42 to 32 percent margin, voters say they’re more likely to vote for a Republican candidate this fall because of the president. And, for the first time, Republicans were also winning the generic ballot measure, with voters more likely to say they’d vote for a GOP candidate, by a 43 to 38 percent margin.