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White House: Yes, governors matter

White House: Yes, governors matter
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The White House is playing up President Obama’s campaign efforts for Democratic governors, arguing wins around the country would benefit his policies and add to his legacy.

As Obama traveled to Wisconsin Tuesday while his party is working to defeat Republican Gov. Scott Walker, the White House argued adding allies in governors’ mansions could have a big impact regardless of what happens in next week’s race for the House and Senate.

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“Like in 2010, races at the state level will have lasting impacts,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said ahead of Obama’s visit to Milwaukee.

“Look no further than the 13 states that have raised the minimum wage in the face of congressional inaction or the 27 states that expanded Medicaid to make healthcare more affordable for consumers as flash points for what is at stake in this year’s governor’s races,” Schultz said. “That is why the president is committed to helping candidates who share his priorities prevail in November.”

Obama made his visit to Wisconsin on behalf of Mary Burke, who is locked in a tight battle with Walker, as he’s relatively sidelined in the pitched battle for the Senate.

Obama has been persona non grata for vulnerable Democrats including Sens. Mark Begich in Alaska and Mark Pryor in Arkansas, and his low approval ratings long have been seen as a drag on Democrats swimming upstream around the country.

Even in Iowa and Colorado, two states Obama carried in 2008 and 2012, it’s clear his presence would not help his party win two tough Senate races.

Obama has been more active in gubernatorial races, and in addition to Wisconsin he is expected to campaign with Democratic gubernatorial candidates in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

He’s already stumped for Democratic candidate Anthony Brown in Maryland, and Gov. Pat Quinn in Illinois.

White House aides maintain that the gubernatorial races are significant and “worthy of the president’s attention,” but Republicans argue the focus simply reflects that the president is unwanted in the campaign for the House and Senate.

“What’s more important, Obama’s legacy or keeping control of the Senate?” Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski asked. She added that it “sounds like spin to try to cover up the fact that Obama isn’t welcome on the trail in competitive Senate races, because they’ve all voted with him upwards of 90 percent of the time.”

Asked on Tuesday if the results of the gubernatorial races were more significant than the outcome of the Senate, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest replied, “I think it’s different.”

“Obviously the role of the governors is quite different than the role of individual senators,” he said. “I think it’s hard to assess, sort of, whether or not one is more important than the other.”

Observers say the White House might realize that even if Democrats do maintain control of the Senate, another way to advance Obama’s agenda during his remaining time in office is to pursue the state path. 

“The president definitely has a better relationship with governors than members on Capitol Hill,” said Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons, adding that governors “have to get things done, so partisanship doesn’t get in the way.”

“Whatever happens on Election Day, the likelihood that anything significant will come out of Congress is extremely low,” Simmons said. “But you can do a lot more working with a cooperative governor than working with Congress with administrative changes and pilot projects.”

In addition, if Democrats do win many of the gubernatorial races, Obama can say he contributed to a “long game strategy” and that he did contribute positively to a number of key races, observers note. 

“You’d like to be able to point to some ways and places where you contributed,” said Democratic strategist Chris Lehane. 

Still, other Democrats acknowledged that if Obama were welcome on the Senate campaign trail, that’s where he’d be.

“It’s not like he can go to the so-called red state Senate races right now,” said Democratic strategist Jim Manley, who formerly served as a spokesman to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “He and his team realize that but want to help out where he can.”