Presidential legacy building and midterm elections rarely go hand in hand. Take the 2010 elections: many conservative Democrats campaigned against the President. Indiana Democrat Joe Donnelly, for example, ran television ads disassociating himself with the President, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Harry Reid. Donnelly did so well with that message, he won a Senate seat in 2012.
Ahead of the midterms in November, it’s not just the rank and file shrugging off Obama’s short coattails and betting on running against him. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Menendez has criticized the President for dragging his feet on Iran. Within hours of Obama’s State of the Union last week, Reid bashed one of the President’s centerpiece goals: passing two historic trade deals. Incoming Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairwoman Mary Landrieu has pushed Obama to approve the Keystone pipeline, while outgoing chairman Ron Wyden has pushed Obama not to approve it. Environmentalists say the pipeline will do damage, whereas businesses say it’ll bring in thousands of much needed jobs.
As Democrats look increasingly likely to lose the Senate come November, vulnerable Senate Democrats such as Louisiana’s Landrieu, Arkansas’ Mark Pryor and Kay Hagan of North Carolina have distanced themselves from the ever unpopular Obamacare. Hagan even declined to be seen with Obama when he visited her state last month, citing conflicting schedules. Other Dems are upset that the President has yet to close Guantánamo, end the war in Afghanistan or seriously curb the National Security Agency’s collection of metadata exposed by Edward Snowden.
All of which must have made for interesting fodder when Reid and Obama sat down for a tête-à-tête with Obama at the White House on Monday afternoon. Indeed, the two leaders had so much to discuss, trade didn’t even come up in the meeting, sources say.
Running against Washington dysfunction isn’t new. It was the theme of Obama’s successful re-election campaign in 2012. The only question is, If the Democrats’ big umbrella is shrinking, who gets wet? For the next nine months, as he was perhaps telling the President today, Reid may need Obama to get a little soggy.