Could Spotlighting Obama-Dems Rift Backfire on GOP?

Could Spotlighting Obama-Dems Rift Backfire on GOP?
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Democrats' efforts to distance themselves from President Obama in this midterm election year have been well documented, especially by Republicans, who alert the media every time a candidate does or doesn’t appear with the de facto leader of the party.

And for that, some Democrats may want to send the GOP a thank-you card.

“They’re trying to attach me and they’re also disconnecting me. They’re showing exactly my point,” said Alaska Sen. Mark Begich of the opposition efforts.

Begich (pictured) is a top GOP target this election cycle and is one of a handful of vulnerable Democrats in states Obama lost by wide margins in 2012. Republicans often assail Begich for his support of the health care law, as they are doing in other races in hopes of picking up the six Senate seats needed to win back control of the upper chamber.

Part of that strategy involves connecting those imperiled incumbents in red states to an unpopular president, and when candidates steer clear of Obama and distance themselves from the party, it underscores the Republicans’ national message that Democrats are running from their own, potentially toxic affiliations.

But at the same time, those spotlights may be feeding right into the Democrats’ 2014 playbook, in which the party is making a concerted effort to keep the president far from at-risk candidates in order to emphasize the incumbents’ independence and the local nature of their campaigns.

“[Republicans’] whole goal is to say Begich, Obama, whatever. And Alaskans are much smarter than this. They know exactly what I’ve stood for, and when I disagree with the president, they hear it loud and clear,” Begich said in an interview. “When he’s wrong, I make it very clear. When he needs to be convinced, I hammer hard. And they know it. I think [Republicans] trying to do this split-off -- they’re just making my point. That’s what I’ve been saying. And if they want to keep echoing that point, go for it.”

Republicans, however, see a payoff. On Friday, the GOP campaign committees hit Democrats for not wanting to appear with a president who has been raising lot of cash for candidates from his party.

"It's Valentine's Day and love is in the air! Sadly, much of the coverage lately suggests that President Obama may be feeling a little bit lonely, having been given the cold shoulder in public by some of his favorite Democrats,” NRSC spokesman Brad Dayspring wrote in an email. “It's become such a one-sided relationship that even as President Obama promises to raise millions for his Senate Democratic friends, they continue to play hard to get -- at least in public.”

Ads driving home this point are already running in states like North Carolina, home of Sen. Kay Hagan, who stayed in Washington for votes when the president visited her state last month.

Democrats insist voters don’t spend a lot of time tallying up when a candidate does or doesn’t appear with the president. But “locally, it may very well back up the message that Democratic candidates are talking about on the trail -- that they’re not rubber stamps,” said one party strategist.

While the president could be a drag on some candidates this fall, his fundraising capabilities are invaluable, especially since he is not running for re-election and is sharing the wealth. Obama will headline six fundraisers for House Democrats in the coming weeks and another six for Senate Democrats.

“President Obama was an important part of the team helping House Democrats outraise the NRCC by $15 million last year and is continuing to help us draw a strong contrast with Republicans in Congress who are focused on protecting their special interest backers at the expense of the middle class,” said Josh Schwerin, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The president spoke with House Democrats at their annual retreat this week in Cambridge, Md., applauding them for their party unity and urging them to continue their focus on immigration reform, minimum wage legislation and income inequality, especially among women. He also praised them for the health care law, and noted the more than 3 million people who have signed up for coverage.

“That does not count the close to 7 million folks who have signed up for Medicaid because of the law that you passed, or the 3 million young people who are staying on their parents’ plans. We’re starting to see data already that the uninsured rate is coming down,” he said.

He then thanked them for “hanging … tough on an issue that I think 10 years from now, five years from now, we’re going to look back and say this was a monumental achievement that could not have happened had it not been for this caucus.”

He did not, however, mention whether Democrats would win back the majority or even pick up seats.

Alexis Simendinger contributed to this report. 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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