Democrats gathered at the party’s executive board meeting on Saturday stood by President ObamaBarack Hussein Obama Chelsea Manning tests positive for COVID-19 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Tight security for Capitol rally; Biden agenda slows Obama backs Trudeau in Canadian election MORE, and despite the rocky few weeks he’s faced, they say his troubles won't hurt their prospects in November.
Obama has spent the past few weeks grappling with one controversy after another. Allegations of mismanagement at Veterans Affairs hospitals were overshadowed this week by questions surrounding the administration’s trade of five Taliban prisoners in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's release.
But Democratic committee members and strategists dismissed GOP criticism of Obama as a “distraction” and said the party plans to stick to its focus of economic issues as it looks towards a difficult midterm election landscape.
“I think it’s a political attack that won’t be part of the midterms at all,” Kelly Ward, executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told The Hill of Republicans’ criticism of Bergdahl's release, ordered by Obama.
Republicans have expressed anger at the White House surrounding the 28-year-old soldier's suspected desertion while some Democrats were dismayed that Congress wasn't notified of the swap beforeheand.
But Ward said she was satisfied with the way the president handled the Republican backlash.
“I think you’re hearing the response from the president, and his response is sufficient and captures, I think, what we’re all feeling about the frustration of the Republicans’ attack on this,” she said.
Ward added that vulnerable House Democrats and Democratic candidates are “strictly focused on their districts and what they need to do to win” right now.
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) expressed similar frustration with Republicans.
“It’s the Republicans that seem obsessed with Benghazi and distractions. Democrats don’t have to refocus, we are focused, and have been concentrating on an agenda that — obviously, as you saw with some of the polling that was mentioned today — is what is at the top of the agenda for Americans all across this country,” she said, referencing polling that’s shown some of the party’s most vulnerable Senate Democrats holding their own against Republican challengers.
She said Republicans are focusing on things like Benghazi “because they have to create some distractions from an agenda that is dramatically out of touch with most Americans.”
Polling out this week shows just how tough the climate is for Democrats. One survey, conducted by a Democratic and Republican pollster for Fox News, revealed nearly 70 percent of voters believe the Obama Administration is less competent than Bill Clinton’s, and a plurality, 48 percent, said it was less competent than George W. Bush’s.
And a CNN/ORC poll showed 58 percent of Americans disapproved of how Obama has handled the VA scandal, though his approval rating remained unchanged at 43 percent.
Democrats are defending a fragile, six-seat majority in the Senate and need to net 17 seats to take back the House, a challenging proposition during a midterm year, when the party in the White House typically loses seats.
Ward, however, gave an enthusiastic presentation about the state of play for Democrats in the House, touting 40 districts that Democrats see as opportunities for offense and repeatedly reminding the audience that “it’s early, and we’re on offense.”
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Executive Director Guy Cecil sounded cautiously optimistic about the party’s chances at holding onto the Senate, promising the assembled committee members that “together…we are going to hold the United States Senate.”
But many of the party’s most vulnerable Democrats reside in the South, where Obama isdeeply unpopular and some of his policies have sparked backlash.
The large military population in some of those states could make issues like the Bergdahl release and the VA scandal particularly potent in the midterm elections, though Republicans run the risk of overplaying their hands on sensitive national security issues.
Gilda Cobb-Hunter, chair of the DNC’s Southern Regional Caucus and a state representative from South Carolina, said while military issues are big in the South, she believes Democrats will ultimately come out on the right side of the issue with voters if they tout what they’ve done to support veterans.
“There are a lot of paper patriots who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. Between now and November, Democrats across the board will take the case to the people of just whose records on veterans benefits, affairs, you name it, whose record is better,” she said.
Cobb-Hunter said she didn’t think Obama’s current troubles would hurt Democrats in the South — but not necessarily because they weren’t harmful.
“It can’t really be any tougher in the South [for Democrats] than it is already,” she said.