Some Democrats Running for Governor Embrace Obama, Others Ignore Him
By Daniel C. Vock, Staff Writer
This week, President Barack Obama has been flying around the country, rallying Democrats to vote for their party's nominees for governor in Wisconsin and Ohio. At both stops, top Democrats have been all too happy to appear on stage with their party's most powerful spokesman.
But the welcome reception Obama received this last week stands in contrast to the reception from other would-be governors as the president has traveled through the country this year. Democratic nominees in Texas and Georgia were conspicuously absent during recent presidential visits, and a leading Florida candidate kept her distance Thursday.
Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, a Democrat, welcomed the president for a fundraiser Wednesday (Aug. 18) to help Strickland's reelection bid. The governor praised Obama for focusing on job creation, and the president returned the favor."From the day he stepped in as governor, Ted Strickland has not wasted a single, solitary minute fighting to turn this economy around," Obama said at a Columbus fundraiser.
"And his work is not yet done," the president added. "So I know I'm preaching to the choir in this room, but I want everybody who's going to be hearing me through the television … to know Ted Strickland has done an outstanding job for Ohio, and he needs another term to finish what he has started here."
But Alex Sink, the Democratic establishment's favorite in the race for governor, was markedly more standoffish. In a three-hour visit to Florida Wednesday afternoon, Obama helped the state Democratic Party raise $700,000 and ate corned-beef sandwiches with U.S. Senate hopeful Kendrick Meek at Jerry's Famous Deli.
Sink, though, kept her distance. "For Alex Sink, the Democratic frontrunner for governor," the Miami Herald wrote, "the potential price for embracing the increasingly unpopular president was too steep. The state's chief financial officer did not join Obama at the deli or greet him at Miami International Airport, and she had stepped off the stage by the time Sen. Bill Nelson introduced the president at the hotel."
The Herald said Sink's reluctance to appear with Obama "was not surprising, considering that Gov. Charlie Crist's embrace of the president last year helped his rival Marco Rubio torpedo his standing with GOP voters. Crist campaigned together with Obama for approval of the president's $787 billion stimulus plan." Crist since left the Republican Party and is now running for the U.S. Senate as an independent.Thursday's events came on the heels of a visit Obama paid to Milwaukee earlier this week to boost the campaign of Wisconsin's Democratic candidate for governor, Tom Barrett. The president recounted the now-famous story of how Barrett, Milwaukee's mayor, came to the aid of a grandmother who was being attacked in the parking lot at the Wisconsin State Fair. Barrett's hand was broken and several of his teeth were knocked out when the assailant attacked him with a tire iron.
"I've heard stories about mayors who personally respond to calls about potholes and parking tickets and snowed-in driveways," Obama said. "But I never heard about a mayor who risked his life to respond to an actual cry for help. That is some serious customer service from this mayor right here."
Barrett told WISN-TV he was grateful for Obama's appearance. "I think anytime you have the president of the United States come, a community should be honored," Barrett said. "I'm happy to have him here." But one of Barrett's potential Republican rivals for the governorship, Scott Walker, says the money raised at the Obama fundraiser would be used to launch negative ads against the eventual Republican nominee.
Earlier this year, Obama gave a very personal endorsement to his long-time friend Deval Patrick, the Democratic governor of Massachusetts.
"I want you to realize that you've got a tremendous leader in Deval Patrick," Obama said. "In what is an extraordinarily tough time to be a governor, he has moved forward — not on the easy issues, but on the tough — pushing historic ethics reform, making education a top priority, keeping Massachusetts at the forefront of clean technology and biotechnology and all the innovations that are ultimately going to determine how well America is able to compete around the world in the 21st century. He's the governor that's going to keep leading Massachusetts into the future."
But not all Democrats vying to be governor are looking for a photo-op alongside the president. Earlier this month, former Georgia governor Roy Barnes, who is angling to get his old job back, stayed more than 100 miles away from Obama when the president visited Atlanta. "Nobody's invited us," a Barnes spokesman initially said, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution .
Emory University political science professor Alan Abramowitz had another explanation. "Among white independent voters in Georgia — which Barnes needs — he (Obama) is pretty unpopular," Abramowitz told The Associated Press . "Barnes needs to stay away."
The most striking snub may have come in Texas, where Houston Mayor Bill White kept his distance from the president. Obama visited Austin and Dallas to promote college graduation and to raise money for Democratic candidates.
But when Air Force One landed in Austin, it was White's Republican opponent, Governor Rick Perry, a consistent critic of Obama and the federal government in general, who greeted Obama on the tarmac. While shaking hands, Perry tried to give Obama a letter calling for more National Guard troops on the border. Obama, reported the Houston Chronicle , told Perry to give the letter to an aide.