How valuable will the political capital of President Obama--and relatedly, if to a lesser degree, Vice President Joe Biden--be for fellow Democrats campaigning for office? We'll get a preliminary answer to this question this fall in the New Jersey and Virginia governor's races, and a fuller answer next autumn in the congressional and gubernatorial races of the midterm cycle.
On behalf of Jon Corzine, the Democratic National Committee has produced a new ad featuring the president, above. Corzine, who by dint of his poll numbers looks to be in serious trouble, appears on stage at a rally with Obama, whose comments touting Corzine's performance on the economy and education are sampled at some length. (We see but do not hear from Corzine.) Two Obama visuals and accompanying quotes also now scroll across the Corzine campaign homepage.
Turning southward to the Commonwealth, Obama will be in Virginia Thursday to stump for Creigh Deeds, something Biden has already done. Tellingly, however, the Obama event is planned for Northern Virginia, which makes me wonder about something that the Hotline's Jennifer Skalka is also pondering: Will Deeds want to be seen as closely allied with Obama, particularly in the non-NoVa sections of the state?
If the rest of the Deeds campaign's media approach is any indication, I'm guessing Obama is not going to venture too far from NoVa. The campaign has produced a fantastic, semi-biographical, two-minute ad called "Welcome to Deeds Country." The video works hard to establish Deeds' native cred, showing him and his attractive family in a variety of rural backdrops--all of this set to violin-heavy, bluegrassy music. The "Deeds Country" logo, depicted on the pin to the right, is visually appealing and affirms Deeds' homespun, pastoral themes. The branding here is highly localized.
Of course, in almost any governor's races the campaign wants make the case about its candidate, and how well s/he fits the needs and goals of the state, rather than turning the contest into some referendum on national politics or a fellow partisan president. But, so far as I can tell from perusing the Deeds' website, what's amazing is the complete avoidance of all things Obama. It's possible I missed some mention somewhere, but the "issues" page on the Deeds campaign website, including various links to the topical subpages, includes not even one reference to Obama. There may no mention of the Democratic president anywhere on the site. Meanwhile, at the equivalent issues mainpage on the Corzine site, we find this unapologetically partisan identification: "Governor Corzine’s partnership with President Obama, his cabinet, Democrats in the US Congress and here in New Jersey is well-known. As the country moves in a new, more progressive, direction that attempts to undo to the damage of the Bush years, it’s critical that New Jersey has a leader who is in sync with that vision and will not let New Jersey get left behind."
According to Pollster.com, both Democrats are trailing--though Corzine appears to be in greater danger of losing than Deeds. Aside from needing to pull out any and all stops, there are other reasons why Corzine would be inclined to appear closer and cozier with Obama than Deeds: Corzine is an incumbent a time of high voter frustration, and he represents a bluer state that Obama carried more comfortably last fall than his 6-point margin in Virginia, with its sea of mostly red counties beyond the Washington suburbs.
Perhaps the Deeds campaign is simply waiting for Thursday's Obama appearance to begin building some linked messaging and visuals. And you can be damn sure that Obama-themed literature and robo-calls will be going into African American neighborhoods in the final days of the campaign. Still, for now at least it looks like Deeds understands that the value of a president's political capital depends on the local currency--and is thus less interested in tapping Obama's reserves as is Corzine.