WASHINGTON (CBS DC/AP) — President Barack Obama is willing to help Democrats keep the Senate, even if it means not campaigning for his fellow party members.
Obama was at Nationals Stadium Wednesday for the Senate Dems’ issues conference, where they strategized about the Affordable Care Act and the upcoming midterm elections, among other issues.
One senator, speaking to The Washington Post, said the president told them that he would distance himself from the races where Dems were most vulnerable.
“The president said that he is thoroughly committed to helping Democrats in tough races,” the unnamed senator told the Post. “He said he knew he is not popular in some of the states so he would not be offended if he were not invited to visit them this year. But he said he could be helpful in some parts of some states.”
Of the 53 Democratic senators, it’s the nearly two dozen facing re-election this year who are causing jitters for Obama and the party. With control of the Senate at stake, many of those Democrats are actively seeking ways to distance themselves from a president who is deeply unpopular in their home states.
With prospects for capturing the House this year in doubt, Democrats have intensified their focus on the Senate, where their tenuous majority will be toppled in November if they lose more than five seats – out of 21 they are defending. Although Obama has had to rein in aspirations for ambitious second-term legislation due to Republican control of the House, his final years in office would be even more constrained were Democrats to lose the Senate.
“He’s the head of his party. Of course it’s on his mind. But it is far from the only thing on his mind,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said. “What is principally on his mind is the opportunity available to us and available to him to advance an agenda that expands opportunity and rewards hard work.”
Sensitive to the fact that many of Democrats’ toughest races this year are in conservative-leaning states that voted against Obama in 2012, the White House and Democratic leadership so far have given wide latitude to Democrats who have publicized their disagreements with Obama. But the criticism also serves as a nagging reminder that Obama’s ability to aid fellow Democrats this year is limited.
“I want him up in Alaska so I can show him where his policies haven’t worked,” Sen. Mark Begich said ahead of the meeting. “I’ll drag him up there to show him what he needs to be doing. I don’t need him campaigning for me.”
The Alaska Democrat’s re-election race is one of the toughest for Democrats this year.
Obama was also joined at the issues conference by former President Bill Clinton.
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