White House Plays Role In Off-Year Elections

For Democratic candidates in this fall's elections, President Obama's presence is key. He has been campaigning for candidates who face tough battles. If the president can make a difference in terms of fundraising, it would be a big boost to their campaigns.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

So we see the way that people invoke the president's name in Virginia. Now, let's talk about several fall elections with NPR News analyst Juan Williams, who's in our studios. Juan, good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What's the president's role in the other fall elections?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, especially in New Jersey, he's got to talk about the economy - that's what he's been doing - try to help Governor Jon Corzine come to the forefront. And Corzine's been trailing in the state against Chris Christie and right now, the presence of Obama - key to turnout. Just as we heard in - Mara talking about in Virginia, he's key in New Jersey.

And similarly, there's a 23rd Congressional District race in upstate New York, a district that's been held by Republicans forever, it seems. Again, if you can make a difference, if President Obama can make a difference in terms of fundraising, there'll be a big boost to the Democrat there.

He's been out for Chris Dodd in Connecticut, the senator, as well as Deval Patrick, the governor in Massachusetts.

INSKEEP: They don't face re-election now…

WILLIAMS: No.

INSKEEP: …but Dodd, especially, a tough re-election race.

WILLIAMS: Tough re-election race coming up.

INSKEEP: And so what are the risks for the president in getting involved in races like that?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, he has no choice. He has been slipping in the polls -Gallup had him down 9 percent in terms of this second quarter, which was -between second and third quarter, I should say, which is a big drop for any president. But he needs to assert that he still has stature that came out of last year's race, in terms of some ongoing debates in Washington - that he still can sway Republican and moderate voters of both parties - independents in particular - and carry that image into Washington legislative discussions.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that. Are you saying that these elections could influence the debate over health care, say, that a change in the governor's race in Virginia or New Jersey could affect what kind of bill gets out of Congress - or what kind of bill doesn't get out of Congress?

WILLIAMS: It really does have a strong effect because I think it will signal, especially to those blue dog Democrats - who we have been talking about for months here on MORNING EDITION, who are key in terms of negotiations over health care - whether or not this president is going to be a help to them, let's say, going into the midterms.

And really, what we're talking about here is a lead-up to those midterms. Remember that after Bill Clinton won election in '92, he lost control of Congress in '94. And so what you're hearing from White House strategists is, at this point, they are involved in making sure that there's not a repeat of that phenomenon for President Obama.

INSKEEP: And I suppose we should be careful. It doesn't mean that these - this fall's race is necessarily - predict what's going to happen at the congressional races next year. It's not reliable there. But I do wonder if it's valuable in some ways as a snapshot of where the public is now, that you have these two states - one that was going more Democratic, Virginia; one that has been solidly Democratic in recent years, New Jersey - and in both cases, you've got a Democrat running for governor who's in some trouble.

WILLIAMS: Right. And I think that especially on the economy, what you're hearing from President Obama is he gets out there and makes it clear that Democrats should not be blamed, that they're the ones who are, in his words, trying to clean up a mess that was left by the previous administration.

So, he has been highly political, getting out there to raise money more aggressively than we saw on the part of either former President Bush or Bill Clinton. So, what we see here is that right from the start, it's been a sort of continuing campaign for the president, especially on that fundraising front, and making sure, again, to lay the groundwork that his political energy, his political stature has not been diminished.

INSKEEP: Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR News analyst Juan Williams.

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INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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