Democratic Leaders, Candidates Shifting Away From Obama

Image: Democratic Leaders, Candidates Shifting Away From Obama From left: Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, and Rep. Elijah Cummings. (Getty Images)

Monday, 25 Aug 2014 11:50 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Democratic leaders are starting to "go rogue" by defying the federal government on immigration, social policy, and more, as approval ratings for their party's leader, President Barack Obama, spiral downward, Politico reported.

Mayors in cities such as Los Angeles and Philadelphia report they will not cooperate with Washington immigration authorities on detainment requests, the political news website said.

Meanwhile, in states such as Colorado and Washington, officials have gone against federal drug laws by decriminalizing marijuana and allowing the drug to be sold and possessed legally.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, has said his state will no longer automatically hold immigrants, and said his decision could lead "a movement toward better policy, smarter policy, and a more just policy."

But as Democrats move forward on the local level, some, such as California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, say it's no substitute for national attention to issues.

"It's certainly a sign of system failure," Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor, told Politico. "Unless D.C. gets its act together, we're going to see more of this patchwork, localized reform."

Some Democrats say they're taking their own action because change is difficult to get done on the national level because of the divided houses of Congress.

Jean Robinson, a Seattle construction executive who served as chairwoman of the Washington state's pot decriminalization referendum campaign, said not knowing what the federal government would do was a risk, but she had no reservations.

"It's very difficult to get anything done on the national level, as President Obama has seen all these years, and this was something that couldn't wait," she told Politico.

Meanwhile, other Democrats are turning away from the increasingly unpopular Obama when it comes to courting votes.

In the south, Democratic candidates need to attract the African-American vote to help maintain the party's lead in the Senate, but they are relying on the Congressional Black Caucus to help them attract voters rather than counting on Obama, who is highly unpopular in many red-leaning states.

Democratic incumbents nationwide are shying away from Obama, Politico said in a separate story. Caucus members such as Reps. John Lewis of Georgia, Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Jim Clyburn of South Carolina are traveling instead.

"You have so many people who, unfortunately, see the president as someone they don't like," Cummings told Politico. "You need others to come in and talk about the same things he would talk about."

Lewis, who traveled through the South during the civil rights movement in the 1960s to help get people registered to vote, said the caucus can play a major role in getting the black vote out this election cycle.

Caucus members are focusing on North Carolina and Louisiana in hopes of attracting voters for incumbent Democrats Kay Hagan and Mary Landrieu, both of whom face strong challenges from Republicans this fall.

Minorities often do not cast votes during midterm elections, so the lawmakers are stressing that the current election is as important as presidential races, including the landmark 2008 election that Obama won.

Last month, Cummings joined Democratic North Carolina Rep. G.K. Butterfield in North Carolina for the Hagan campaign, telling the black community that if the Senate turns Republican, there could be cuts in welfare benefits, public housing, and education.

Lewis said at another event that a Democratic Senate is a "safeguard" for African-Americans while Republicans remain in control of the House.

"You have to vote like your life depended on it," he said. "Right now, it does."

Lewis and Cummings said that if African-American members can frame the 2014 election as one that could affect voting rights, black voters are more likely to turn out at the polls.

Landrieu had a campaign visit from black Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, and members of the caucus have offered to visit in hopes of turning out voters.

Hagan has also launched an "African-Americans for Kay" effort that includes many of the state's top black leaders.

"People need to be reminded that the 2014 elections are very, very, very important," Cummings told Politico. "One election could be the determining factor to what kind of legislation we're able to get through."

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