WASHINGTON – The White House plans to aggressively deploy President Obama to rally Democrats to the polls for the 2016 election, particularly his strongest supporters — minorities and the young.
His campaign work could be the difference between Democrats holding or losing the White House in 2016. With the broader electorate closely divided, either Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton or her main challenger, Sen. Bernie Sanders, will need any extra margin those voters can provide, particularly in crucial battlegrounds such as Ohio, Virginia and Florida.
Polls show that Republicans are more enthusiastic about the upcoming election than Democrats, adding urgency to the mission of motivating Democrats. Obama would be a powerful pitchman within the party: His 83 percent job approval rating among Democrats in a new Gallup Poll is higher than Ronald Reagan’s 79 percent among Republicans at the same point in his presidency. His overall approval rating was 46 percent.
“President Obama has both the unique ability and unique credibility to frame the stakes in the race that will be motivating to Democrats,” said Geoffrey Garin, a Democratic pollster who works for a pro-Clinton super PAC.
The politicians competing for the Democratic nomination clearly understand his appeal: His name was invoked 21 times in the party’s first debate, 13 times by Clinton.
It’s a marked departure from the experience of Obama’s two predecessors. Democrat Bill Clinton was sidelined in the 2000 election in part because of his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and Republican George W. Bush was kept in the background by his party’s nominee because of voter anger over the Iraq War.
In addition to seeking to turn out voters in the presidential race, Obama’s team anticipates that he also will campaign for Senate and House candidates in 2016, according to a Democratic strategist familiar with the administration’s planning.
That, too, is a change. In 2014, vulnerable Democrats largely avoided appearances with the president as they tried to defend Senate seats in six states that Republican 2012 nominee Mitt Romney had carried by at least 14 percentage points.
This year, the fight for control of the Senate will be carried out on territory friendlier for Democrats. Republicans are defending seats in seven states Obama won in 2012, including his home state of Illinois, and the two most competitive contests for Democratic-held Senate seats are in states he won twice.