Obama Issues Endorsements in 81 Midterm Races
Barack Obama formally weighed in on the 2018 midterm elections by backing 81 Democratic candidates running for federal and local offices in 14 states, and indicated that more endorsements are on the way.
The former president, who remains widely popular within his party, is not engaging in Democratic primaries, however; a list he released on Wednesday features only general election candidates.
"I’m confident that, together, they’ll strengthen this country we love by restoring opportunity, repairing our alliances and standing in the world, and upholding our fundamental commitment to justice, fairness, responsibility, and the rule of law," Obama said, noting the diversity of the roster. The candidates hail from California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.
But the list was also notable for candidates it did not include, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is likely to become the youngest woman elected to Congress. The New York “Democratic socialist” upset House Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley in a June primary, almost immediately becoming a controversial figure. Some in the party see her as a rising star who is elevating issues like Medicare for all, an increased federal minimum wage, and the abolishment or restructuring of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But others fear she is dragging the party too far to the left. Republicans have already fashioned her into a boogeyman, and are trying to tie their Democratic opponents to her views.
Obama also is not weighing in on the New York governor's race, where Cynthia Nixon is challenging incumbent Andrew Cuomo.
Obama only endorsed one upper-chamber candidate, Nevada Rep. Jacky Rosen, who is challenging Republican Sen. Dean Heller in a state that has been trending increasingly blue. Heller is the only GOP senator up re-election this year in a state Hillary Clinton won in 2016.
But the 44th president did not endorse any other Senate candidates, even with Democrats at risk of losing seats there. Unlike in the House, the party faces an uphill climb in flipping control of the chamber. Ten Democratic incumbents are up for re-election in states Donald Trump won — five of them by overwhelming margins. An endorsement from Obama could hinder them more than it could help, given the electorate’s makeup.
There is also a question of the extent to which Obama's endorsements could have an impact, since he was unable to transfer his own support down-ballot while in office. Over the course of his tenure, Democrats hemorrhaged seats at the federal and local level. The results of the 2016 election suggested, to some observers, a rebuke of his presidency. Now it appears that President Trump has been an energizing force for Democratic candidates and activists.
Still, Obama's backing and ability to draw crowds could boost lesser-known candidates running for office. The former president remains generally popular since leaving the White House, with a 57 percent approval rating, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average. The endorsement list includes some candidates running to defeat GOP incumbents in House districts that Clinton won. He also endorsed in some traditional Republican strongholds where Democrats believe the political climate is turning in their favor, such as Illinois' 12th Congressional District, where Brendan Kelly is taking on Rep. Mike Bost. Obama also endorsed Georgia's Stacy Abrams, who could become the nation’s first black woman governor if elected in November.
Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated that former President Obama did not endorse Sen. Dianne Feinstein. In fact, he did so on May 4.