You want Obama’s endorsement? Then first, you have to ask him for it

House Democrats who have secured the president’s coveted endorsement in primaries this year say there is one vital step in attracting the formal backing of the White House.

You must ask for it.

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Obama has staunchly supported his former Senate colleagues who faced primary challenges this cycle, but when it comes to the House, he’s been more selective.

Obama appeared in Pennsylvania for Sen. Arlen Specter (D) and in Colorado for Sen. Michael Bennet (D) and recorded a robocall for Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D). The White House also made it clear it supported Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) when it cleared the primary field for her.

In House primaries, Obama backed Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), but not Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Mich.). He endorsed Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), but not Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.).

“The White House has been very selective. They have tended to get involved in more Senate races for whatever reason,” said Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.). 

But in an interesting twist, attracting the backing of the commander in chief is not as difficult as some make it out to be.

Johnson, who landed the president’s backing in his primary against former DeKalb County chief Vernon Jones and DeKalb County Commissioner Connie Stokes, said he asked the White House for an endorsement and received it a couple days later.

“It helped me,” Johnson said. “The president is very popular in my district.”

Johnson added that he does not believe Obama would have endorsed him had he not asked.

An official with Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s (D-N.Y.) campaign described getting Obama’s primary endorsement as a “very simple process.”

Maloney had asked the president personally about getting his support and later her campaign manager, Matt Tepper, called the White House’s political shop and asked it to sign off on a press release.

Maloney subsequently used the quotes from the release in a campaign mailer and on her website.

Cohen, who received Obama’s blessing in his primary against former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton (D), described a similar process.

“You don’t ask, you don’t get,” Cohen said.

When the president flew to California earlier this year for an event with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D), he publicly praised Rep. Jane Harman (D).

She later highlighted Obama’s remarks in her reelection campaign.

Harman said, “My polling showed it was helpful.” She won her June 8 primary by almost 20 percentage points.

Some Democrats opted not to ask the White House for an endorsement.

Davis, during his failed run for the Alabama Democratic gubernatorial nod, said, “We didn’t ask and it wasn’t offered. To try to inject the national
party into that race would most certainly have been counterproductive.”

Davis said official backing from the president or even a campaign visit would have been helpful with core Democratic activists and black voters in the state, but “when you run a primary, I think you have to stand on your own two feet.”



Boyd echoed Davis’s remarks.



“I do my own race; I’ve always done that,” he said. “I have not talked to [the White House].”

Boyd, a member of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition who is facing a challenge from the left and right this cycle, has supported his party’s three major legislative priorities: the stimulus package, climate change bill and health reform legislation.

Boyd will face Senate Minority Leader Al Lawson (D) on Aug. 24.

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Asked if an Obama endorsement would cause problems for his campaign, Boyd said: “In the primary? No.”

Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), a committee chairman who faces a primary against community activist Kevin Powell, said he hasn’t yet sought the president’s formal backing.

“I will definitely reach out and ask him,” Towns said. “It’s my understanding they don’t like to endorse in primaries.”

A spokesman for Kilpatrick, who is trailing in polls to state Sen. Hansen Clarke (D) in her primary, said it was also her understanding the president “doesn’t do endorsements.”

Still, Obama did call Kilpatrick a “wonderful congresswoman” during his event at a General Motors plant last Friday. Kilpatrick’s primary is Tuesday.

In a recent interview, embattled Rep. Charles Rangel said he has not reached out to the White House. A House ethics panel last week unveiled 13 counts of rules violations against the New York Democrat. Rangel’s primary is Sept. 14.

“As Election Day approaches, the president will be active in helping House Democrats who have been supportive of his policies in Congress that succeeded in averting the collapse of our economy and laying a new foundation for our nation’s long-term economic strength,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who plays a leadership role in the House Democrats’ campaign committee, said members haven’t been concerned by the president’s lack of involvement.


“I haven’t heard members complain about that,” she said.

Obama endorsed Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.) in his 2008 primary, triggering some jealousy in the Democratic Caucus at the time.

Barrow declined to comment whether he requested Obama’s backing this year. Barrow’s vote against Obama’s health reform bill in March irritated some House Democrats.


Shane D’Aprile, Bob Cusack and Molly K. Hooper contributed to this article.