President Obama has become so unpopular that a weekly political strategy session in the lower level of the West Wing now has to decide “where the president can travel,” according to The New York Times.
The president will not be visiting the districts of a Democratic congressman without being cleared ahead of time, “based, in part, on his approval rating and the local political environment,” reports a front page story in the paper’s Sunday edition. The senior political staff involved in making the weekly travel decisions include Dan Pfeiffer, White House director of communications; Joel Benenson, the president’s chief pollster; Jim Messina, White House deputy chief of staff; and Patrick Gaspard, political director of the effort.
At a lunch last week in the Roosevelt Room with nine vulnerable Democratic congressmen, Obama actually conceded his own dismal popularity ratings, telling them “You may not even want me to come to your district,” according to the Times article.
That certainly seems to be the case with Texas’ Democratic nominee for governor, Bill White, a former mayor of Houston. He says he’s too busy to meet with President Obama when he comes to Texas to speak at two private fundraising events on Aug. 9.
“I simply have a busy schedule in August meeting with Texans, letting them know who I am,” White told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram last week, insisting he meant “no disrespect to the president.”
Texas’ Democratic nominee for attorney general, Barbara Radnofsky, also plans to avoid meeting the president while he’s in Texas. And the Associated Press reports that the Texas Democratic Party has no plans for an official welcome event for the president, in spite of the fact that he will be visiting both Dallas and Austin.
Similarly, the campaign of former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat running to return to the governor’s mansion, claims scheduling conflicts as the reason he won’t be anywhere near the president when he visits Georgia on Monday.
“I had to make a difficult decision on how to best utilize Gov. Barnes’ time and travel,” Barnes’ campaign manager, Chris Carpenter, told the AP. Republican Party state Chairwoman Sue Everhart saw the most prominent Democrat in the state’s avoidance of his own party’s president differently, accusing Barnes of “hiding out on the other side of the state Monday.”
Obama’s popularity has been sinking consistently, with a Reuters survey of 1,075 adults last week giving the president an approval rating of only 48 percent; only 34 percent approved of Obama’s handling of the economy.
Democrats lost gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia last year after Obama campaigned for them. His appearance also did no good in the special Senate election in heavily Democratic Massachusetts earlier this year. But the White House is spinning the decision to keep the president away from candidates at risk this year.
“The president can’t just whistle and point and make them turn out for someone, but the president can help make the introduction,” Pfeiffer told The New York Times.
For many Democratic candidates, however, it seems that the last person they want introducing them to voters is President Obama – a fact the president and his staff seem fully aware of.
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