President Obama delivered a blow to Democratic Senate candidates looking to distance themselves from his flagging approval ratings Monday, saying lawmakers avoiding him on the campaign trail were “strong allies and supporters” who have “supported my agenda in Congress.”
The president said that Democrats faced a “tough map” and noted during a radio interview with Rev. Al Sharpton that many Democrats in crucial races “are in states that I didn’t win.”
“The bottom line is though, these are all folks who vote with me; they have supported my agenda in Congress; they are on the right side of minimum wage; they are on the right side of fair pay; they are on the right side of rebuilding our infrastructure; they’re on the right side of early childhood education.”
Obama went on to say that his feelings weren’t hurt by Democrats who were reluctant to campaign with him.
“These are folks who are strong allies and supporters of me, and I tell them, I said, ‘You know what, you do what you need to do to win. I will be responsible for making sure our voters turn out.’ ”
The president’s remarks appear tailor-made for Republican attack ads in states like Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Kentucky and Alaska, where GOP candidates have painted their Democratic opponents as rubber stamps for the administration’s policies. Democrats in those races have worked hard to distance themselves from Obama, with polls showing his approval ratings mired in the low 40s.
Sen. Kay HaganKay Hagan Former Sen. Kay Hagan in ICU after being rushed to hospital GOP senator floats retiring over gridlock 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map MORE (D-N.C.), for instance, has been critical of the president’s policies on Ebola, the fighting in Iraq and Syria, and immigration. Sen. 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) has blasted Obama’s energy policies, and Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes has refused to say if she voted for the president.
In fact, Obama has not appeared at a campaign event with a single Democratic Senate candidate with just over two weeks left before the election, and has only one such event — in deep blue Michigan — scheduled before voters head to the polls.
It’s not the first time the president has embraced Democratic candidates more than they would like. Earlier this month, Republicans pounced when Obama said that, although he was not on the ballot, "make no mistake, these policies are on the ballot — every single one of them.”
Former senior adviser David Axelrod told "Meet the Press" that the president had made "a mistake" when he said the line, arguing Democrats should instead be offering a vision for the future.
"The problem is how are middle-class people going to make a living in this country and what policies can we implement that can help," he said. "We ought to have that debate."
Press secretary Josh Earnest said later Obama had not hurt his party by nationalizing the election as an evaluation of his policies.
"The president was clear. He said explicitly that his name would not be on the ballot, but what he also said is that in each of these races there is a clear choice," Earnest said. "And the president has been direct about how important that choice is and he’s also been unambiguous about which side of the equation he falls on."