Dannel Malloy is one rare Democrat.
The Connecticut governor, like many other Democrats in this midterm election, is locked in a dead-heat re-election race. But Malloy is daring to do something few other vulnerable Democrats would do — campaign with President Barack Obama.
In his first major campaign event of the fall, Obama was to appear at a Malloy rally Wednesday evening in Bridgeport, Connecticut, aiming to mobilize core Democratic voters who remain loyal and enthusiastic supporters of the president.
When it comes to finding useful places for Obama to stump with a candidate, the pickings are slim. Many of the most imperiled Democrats, particularly Senate incumbents, are running in typically Republican states where Obama is deeply unpopular. Few of those Democrats invoke the president’s name except to distance themselves from him.
So in a way, Wednesday’s rally is an opportunity for Obama to also demonstrate he remains politically relevant. The Connecticut governor’s race is perhaps the best place to start.
It’s a Democratic state Obama won easily in 2008 and 2012. And with Democrats outnumbering Republicans in the state, energizing core voters is essential to Malloy’s survival against Republican Tom Foley.
“It’s a state that Obama carried by 18 points two years ago,” noted former Obama senior adviser David Axelrod. “As everywhere, Malloy’s challenge will be to fight midterm drop-off among Democratic voters, and the president can help with that.”
Following his Connecticut appearance, Obama planned to campaign Sunday in Maryland for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Anthony Brown and in his hometown of Chicago for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. Brown is considered far less vulnerable than Quinn, who is running neck-and-neck in his Illinois re-election bid against Republican Bruce Rauner. As in Connecticut, both races are in states Obama handily won.
Obama will spend the last full week of the campaign appearing at public events for Democratic candidates for governor in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Maine, a White House official told The Associated Press. The official wasn’t authorized to comment by name and demanded anonymity.
What’s more, governors are a step removed from Washington and thus less likely to be held accountable for a president’s federal policies.
In contrast, Democrats running in Senate races in such Republican states as Arkansas, Alaska and Kentucky have made it clear they don’t want to be seen with Obama. Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Kentucky Democrat seeking to unseat Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, won’t even say whether she voted for Obama.
Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana has run ads declaring Obama’s oil and gas policies “simply wrong.” Democratic Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas also have aired commercials taking note of their differences with Obama.
For Obama, Connecticut’s Malloy represents a refreshing foil to those Senate candidates.
Malloy’s state agenda has paralleled Obama’s and Malloy has succeeded in policies that have eluded Obama. Malloy repeatedly draws attention to Connecticut’s successful rollout of the Affordable Care Act. Like Obama, he pushed for a minimum wage increase; unlike Obama, he succeeded in raising it to $10.10 by 2017.
In the aftermath of the December 2012 Newtown elementary school shooting, Obama and Malloy embarked on efforts to toughen gun laws. Malloy enacted a bipartisan bill; Obama couldn’t get a bill out of the Senate.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama would focus on candidates who support his economic policies for the middle class. “To the extent that the president can be helpful to candidates who share those priorities, the president will look forward to an opportunity to do so,” Earnest said.
Obama’s visit Wednesday reprises a 2010 campaign stop for Malloy, who was then also locked in a tight race with Foley. This time the venue is smaller, but the goal is the same.
“The president isn’t really going to get people who are on the fence off the fence,” said Connecticut-based Democratic consultant Matt Hennessy. “This is more about exciting urban voters. If Malloy keeps it close and there is an excited Democratic base, he can pull it off.”
The risk in any state is that an Obama appearance could backfire, motivating Republicans to vote. Hennessy said there were Connecticut Democrats who pushed to have first lady Michele Obama campaign for Malloy instead of the president. But he said the anti-Obama Republican vote in Connecticut is already at its maximum.
“There aren’t voters for them to excite who aren’t already excited,” he said.
Obama is not Malloy’s only big draw. Former President Bill Clinton campaigned for him Monday.
Foley, a former ambassador to Ireland who counts New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in his corner, dismissed Malloy’s presidential firepower.
“I think it shows the governor can’t win this election on his own,” Foley said. “He’s got to bring other people in to try and get people excited about voting for him. I just don’t think it works.”
Associated Press writer Susan Haigh in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, contributed to this report.
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