By Molly K. Hooper - 05/05/10 12:22 AM EDT
Less than two weeks before voters head to the polls, President Barack Obama has not endorsed the Democratic candidate who is looking to succeed the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.).
And Mark Critz, a former aide to Murtha, won’t say whether he wants Obama’s formal backing in a district Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) narrowly won in the 2008 presidential contest.
The Critz campaign refused to say whether it asked for Obama’s endorsement or if it intends to do so.
Critz has made his policy differences with the president clear, saying he opposes abortion rights, supports gun rights and would have voted against the healthcare reform bill Obama signed into law.
According to a recent Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll, Obama’s approval rating in the district is 38 percent, with an unfavorable rating of 55 percent.
An aide to the president pointed to a private April 23 event Vice President Joe Biden headlined with Critz as a marker of Obama’s support but refused to say whether the highest-ranking Democrat in the country would release a statement of endorsement.
“You probably won’t be surprised to hear this, but when the [vice president] travels in support of a candidate, he’s articulating the president’s support for that candidate,” the White House aide said.
However, unlike Biden — who was born in Scranton — Obama does not have deep ties to Pennsylvania.
Critz last month touted Biden’s Pennsylvania ties, telling KDKA.com in Pennsylvania, “Joe Biden’s a great guy. He’s a Pennsylvania hardscrabble kind of guy.”
Obama has previously weighed in on tight special-election races in swing districts. He backed now-Rep. Bill Owens (D-N.Y.) two weeks before he won the seat previously held by Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.).
The president carried McHugh’s district in 2008, attracting 52 percent of the vote.
Earlier in 2009, Obama also endorsed Democrat Scott Murphy less than a week before Murphy defeated GOP opponent Jim Tedisco in another swing district in the Empire State.
Dave Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report predicted that Obama “would not” weigh in on the race, citing Obama’s approval ratings.
“Joe Biden is the White House emissary in chief to these types of districts. A lot of people are thinking of this election in the same terms as [the Owens contest] and [Murphy race]. Both of those districts voted for George W. Bush and Barack Obama. This district moved the complete opposite direction; it went from John Kerry to John McCain.”
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said Tuesday that Obama has been “very supportive of Critz.”
He contends the lack of Obama’s participation in the neck-and-neck race has little to do with any policy disagreements.
“The president understands we have a big-tent party and has supported a lot of members who don’t agree with the president on a lot of issues. And clearly Mark Critz doesn’t agree with the president on every issue,” Van Hollen told The Hill on Tuesday.
Van Hollen added that he had not talked to the White House about getting Obama involved in the May 18 special election.
Asked if Obama should make a formal endorsement, Van Hollen replied, “The president obviously supports Mark Critz, but we’ll see. The short answer is we’ll see.”
It would be unusual if Obama were not to back Critz officially. He endorsed the Democratic candidates in all three gubernatorial contests last year.
Before Democrat Creigh Deeds lost his race in Virginia last year, the White House privately lambasted the way Deeds ran his campaign. Asked during the campaign whether Deeds would describe himself as an “Obama Democrat,” Deeds said, “I’m a Creigh Deeds Democrat.” Republican Bob McDonnell defeated Deeds by 18 percentage points.
In January, Obama also endorsed Senate Democratic candidate Martha Coakley soon before Coakley lost her race to now-Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.).
Obama has not backed a candidate in the May 22 special election to replace former Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii.). Two prominent Democrats are seeking to win the seat and, citing a divided Democratic Party, Republicans are hopeful they can triumph in the winner-take-all race.