Obama midterm endorsements seen as too little, too late by Dem critics

Obama midterm endorsements seen as too little, too late by Dem critics

Former President Obama’s midterm endorsement list is leaving some Democrats cold. 

They argue the list of 81 endorsements came too late in the midterm season and failed to put Obama’s stamp on Democratic primaries. 

Strategists, ex-Obama aides and even some of the former president’s fundraisers interviewed by The Hill say they were perplexed by Obama’s list, which came after most states have held their primaries. 

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“I think a lot of us have wondered why he didn't feel the need to get involved earlier,” said one former senior Obama administration official. “There are a lot of folks that could have used his help much earlier. And there are a lot of people who think he should put a stamp on the party.” 

Obama’s decision to largely stay away from primaries is consistent with the behavior of many other ex-presidents, who have generally sought to stay above internal party fights. 

But it’s been a disappointment to those craving more input from the former president, who is a revered figure in the party. 

An Instagram post this week highlighted Obama’s continued popularity among Democrats. It showed the Obamas being cheered by raucous supporters as they left a restaurant on Martha’s Vineyard, where they are vacationing. 

Some Democrats also say the political environment demands that Obama play a bigger role than his predecessors. They argue that Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpArizona GOP Senate candidate defends bus tour with far-right activist Alyssa Milano protests Kavanaugh in 'Handmaid's Tale' costume Bomb in deadly Yemen school bus attack was manufactured by US firm: report MORE’s presidency underscores the need for Obama to stay on the scene.

“These are not traditional times,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon. “He's the most popular Democrat in our nation, and we really need all the help we can get. So if I were advising him, I would have told him to get out there much sooner and get in the trenches because we're playing high stakes poker.”

The release of the endorsement list, however, was consistent with Obama’s post-Oval Office goal of seeking to stay above the fray and to not become more of a foil to Trump. 

Aides and other people close to Obama have repeatedly said that his desire is to allow a new crop of Democrats to take over the party. Even during the 2016 presidential race, Obama avoided an outright endorsement of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonArizona GOP Senate candidate defends bus tour with far-right activist Santorum: Mueller could avoid charges of McCarthyism by investigating DOJ, FBI Giuliani claims McGahn was a 'strong witness' for Trump MORE, his former secretary of State, during her primary fight with Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersBoogeywomen — GOP vilifies big-name female Dems RealClearPolitics editor: Moderate Democrats are losing even when they win Sanders tests his brand in Florida MORE (I-Vt.). 

A source close to Obama said he has tried to apply the same logic to this year’s primaries. 

While he realizes how much is at stake, he wanted to let the primaries play out without weighing in. He doesn’t want to be the leader of the resistance, other sources close to Obama say, because it will not be helpful to the party in the long term. 

Obama will likely release another list of endorsements in the coming weeks, one source close to the former president said. 

Still, that approach left Obama snubbing even some former aides running for office.

In Texas, for example, Ed Meier, who served as a State Department official under the Obama administration, fell short in a congressional primary. So too did former State Department aide Alison Kiehl Friedman, who was running for Congress in Virginia, and former Commerce Department aide Sam Jammal, who was running for a seat in California. 

“His endorsement during the primary would have changed the outcome of a number of races,” one top Obama fundraiser said, adding that some of the candidates lost because the opposition used the lack of endorsements as a sign of weak job performance. 

“Obama was playing it safe and doing what was best for him not them and not for the country,” the fundraiser continued. “I love the guy but gotta call him out on some of this stuff when it happens.” 

Some former aides and donors say it’s obvious Obama didn’t want to choose sides and hear from allies of various candidates. The president still needs many fundraisers to help build his library and foundation. 

Katie Merrill, who helps head up the super PAC Fight Back California, disagreed with that notion. She said Obama’s endorsements “created quite a buzz and are very helpful to the candidates” in the Golden State. 

Merrill pointed out that a few candidates, including Eleni Kounalakis, who is running for California lieutenant governor, and Obama alumnus Buffy Wicks, who is running for an assembly seat in the state, would be helped by Obama’s endorsements.

Both candidates are running against other Democrats in the general election because of the state’s “top two” system, where the top two candidates move on to the general election regardless of party.

“And for the [Democratic] candidates running against [Republican] in the Congressional races, it’s very helpful by helping unify Democrats after pretty brutal primaries,” she said of Obama’s endorsements.  

Seth Bringman, a Democratic strategist based in Ohio, also said candidates there were “thrilled” to receive Obama's backing. 

“Just knowing that their campaigns are on his radar energized volunteers and helped candidates raise money,” Bringman said. “There's even a little impatience to get him back on the trail, because he can come to any media market in the Buckeye State and help us get back a lot of the voters we lost in 2016.” 

Still, some strategists say Obama’s decision to sit on the sidelines has hurt the party. 

“I was on a call this morning where it was coming up a lot,” one Democratic strategist said. “I think a lot of people say it as lazy, a bit half-assed and a little too methodical. There are ramifications for this and I hope we don’t suffer the consequences. We can’t just go red to blue. We need to make states blue for the long term.”

“Now’s not the time to sit out and be too cute by half,” the strategist said. “Where’s the audacity of hope?”