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 BegichPerez creates advisory team for DNC transition The future of the Arctic 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map MORE (D-Alaska) and Kay HaganKay HaganLinking repatriation to job creation Former Sen. Kay Hagan in ICU after being rushed to hospital GOP senator floats retiring over gridlock MORE (D-N.C.) were maintaining narrow leads. Meanwhile, Democratic nominee Rep. Bruce BraleyBruce BraleyTen years later, House Dems reunite and look forward Trump: Ernst wanted 'more seasoning' before entertaining VP offer Criminal sentencing bill tests McConnell-Grassley relationship 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 ShaheenOvernight Finance: Senators spar over Wall Street at SEC pick's hearing | New CBO score for ObamaCare bill | Agency signs off on Trump DC hotel lease Senators demand Pentagon action after nude photo scandal Senate Dems: We won't help pass additional health bills 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 PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE (Ark.) and Mary LandrieuMary LandrieuMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Five unanswered questions after Trump's upset victory Pavlich: O’Keefe a true journalist 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 UdallGorsuch's critics, running out of arguments, falsely scream 'sexist' Election autopsy: Latinos favored Clinton more than exit polls showed Live coverage: Tillerson's hearing for State 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.