One of the more interesting phenomena of this election season: Democratic candidates are distancing themselves from the head of their party and his increasingly dysfunctional administration’s policies. Even incumbents who have voted in relative lock-step with the Obama agenda for the past six years are trying to claim “independence” from that agenda. Alison Lundergan Grimes, running against Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, refused to answer when asked if she voted for Obama in prior elections.
That there can be a price to pay for not maintaining this distance is clear. Only one week after Obama appeared at an event for Maryland Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, who is running for governor against Republican small businessman Larry Hogan, Brown dropped nine points in a Gonzales poll. Previously, Hogan had been trailing by 11 points. The poll showed the race tightening to a toss-up, with Hogan behind by two, well within the margin of error.
Mary Burke in Wisconsin has not followed this trend of avoiding Obama. Last night in Milwaukee, Obama stumped for her at North Division High School in the heart of Milwaukee’s inner city, a district which has reliably voted over 95% Democratic for decades. The event started late, the crowd was relatively thin, and there were reports of shouts and heckling. Members of the heavily African-American crowd began to leave early as Obama was still speaking.
Lately, Burke has had national Democratic Party heavy-hitters appearing on her behalf: Michelle Obama has been to Wisconsin twice, and Bill Clinton appeared last week. Though Burke has been accused on previous occasions of deliberately ducking Obama on swings through Wisconsin, arranging to be elsewhere in the state and citing “scheduling conflicts,” she felt that she needed him now.
Burke was likely chosen by the state party as a vanilla candidate, a blank slate with no record to speak of who — like Obama in 2008 — can be all things to all people. Her only previous experience in public office at any level before running for governor was a brief stint in 2005-2007 as commerce secretary, plus her current position on the school board in Madison, the state capital. She is an independently wealthy heiress (her family owns Trek Bicycle), and was willing to spend a mind-boggling $100,000 for her school board campaign.
Her record as commerce secretary is charitably described as “lackluster”; her Democratic predecessor in the post called her a “disaster.” Despite her position on the school board of the most rabidly Leftist city in the state (known to the rest of us as “Moscow on Lake Mendota”), she has been vague and evasive about what she would do as governor, largely restricting herself to statements that she would “do things differently” and “end the divisiveness.” Despite her early endorsement by the state Democratic Party, this refusal to throw red meat to the leftist base led to a challenge from state assemblyman Brett Hulsey, also of Madison. Poorly financed, he was easily defeated by Burke, yet he still got a surprisingly large number of votes.
The Left wing of the Democratic Party is clearly uneasy about their candidate. Hence, the decision to appear with President Obama.
The election is a week away, with Burke and Walker in a dead heat. Will last night’s appearance by the president cause a result similar to what occurred in Maryland?