By Justin Sink
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 BegichRyan's victory trumps justice reform opponents There is great responsibility being in the minority Senate GOP deeply concerned over Trump effect MORE (D-Alaska) and Kay HaganKay HaganPhoto finish predicted for Trump, Clinton in North Carolina Are Senate Republicans facing an election wipeout? Clinton's lead in NC elevates Senate race MORE (D-N.C.) were maintaining narrow leads. Meanwhile, Democratic nominee Rep. Bruce BraleyBruce BraleyCriminal sentencing bill tests McConnell-Grassley relationship Trump's VP list shrinks Vernon wins Iowa House Dem primary 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 call for better birth control access for female troops GOP puts shutdown squeeze play on Dems Senators seek to boost women in international forces 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 LandrieuLouisiana needs Caroline Fayard as its new senator La. Senate contender books seven-figure ad buy Crowded field muddies polling 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 UdallColorado GOP Senate race to unseat Dem incumbent is wide open Energy issues roil race for Senate Unable to ban Internet gambling, lawmakers try for moratorium 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.