Barack Obama’s Arkansas primary problem

at 07:34 AM ET, 05/22/2012

Two weeks after an imprisoned felon received 41 percent of the vote against President Obama in West Virginia’s presidential primary, Arkansas could provide another potential embarrassment for the incumbent.

That’s because only Obama and John Wolfe, a Tennessee lawyer, are on the Democratic presidential primary ballot in the Razorback State. (Wolfe took 12 percent — and nearly 18,000 votes — in a four-way fight in the Louisiana Democratic presidential primary in late March.) And a recent independent poll showed Obama running just seven points ahead of Wolfe in the southern Arkansas 4th district, which covers one-quarter of the state.

All of this takes place on a backdrop that is decidedly less than friendly for Obama. Even while he was sweeping to a national victory (and 365 electoral votes) in 2008, Obama received just 39 percent in Arkansas — six points worse than Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry did four years earlier.

“Arkansas voters are informed voters and are fully aware that John Wolfe will not make it out of the primary,” said one well-connected Arkansas Democrat. “However, if John Wolfe has a strong showing tomorrow, it’s a sign that Democratic voters in Arkansas are frustrated with the administration’s policies and further reiteration that Southern Democrats simply cannot identify with President Obama.”

And, if the press coverage of Keith Judd’s surprisingly strong showing two weeks ago in West Virginia is any indication, you can expect Wolfe to draw significant attention in the immediate aftermath of today’s vote.

Couple Wolfe’s candidacy in Arkansas with the fact that Kentucky — another place where Obama isn’t popular with many people who call themselves Democrats — also votes today (Obama faces no opponents in Kentucky, but voters there can select “uncommitted” as an option) and you have the potential for a less-than-friendly narrative regarding Obama come Wednesday. And that would follow 72 hours of coverage about Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s comments about private equity and how it should be off-limits in the campaign.

But, what would a Wolfe “surge” actually tell us? And what would it mean in the broader dialogue of the presidential race? Not all that much.

It’s no secret that Obama has struggled with many Democrats in Appalachia and portions of the South, struggles attributed to the more conservative nature of the party in that region, his position on mining and, yes, his race.

There’s also no chance that Wolfe has any practical impact — either inside or outside of Arkansas — since he did not meet the state’s Feb. 20 filing deadline and, therefore, will not be eligible to win any delegates today. And when it comes to the general election, Arkansas is not exactly going to be a electoral hotbed. (If it is, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is going to lose — and lose badly.)

So what Wolfe wins — alliteration! — matters only in whether or not it drives stories about unrest within the party toward Obama. Beyond that, he’s likely to be forgotten within a news cycle (or maybe two).

Booker continues to backtrack: Booker went on Rachel Maddow’s show Monday night, continuing his effort to walk back his comments critical of Obama’s attacks on Romney’s time at Bain Capital.

In the interview, Booker accused the GOP of “plucking soundbites,” even as it was pretty clear what Booker meant.

“Here they are plucking soundbites out of that interview to manipulate them in a cynical manner, to use them for their own purposes,” Booker said. “I’m very upset that I’m being used by the GOP this way.”

Republicans crafted a web video featuring some of Booker’s remarks on “Meet the Press” on Sunday (and we should note the Obama campaign did the same thing with Booker’s web video from later in the day). The GOP also launched a petition called “I Stand with Cory.”

Booker said he now encourages Obama’s campaign to examine Romney’s business record.

“When he says, ‘I’m a job creator,’ I think that’s a characterization of his record that deserves inquiry, and I think the way the president himself is talking about is something I will defend, in fact something I will echo,” Booker said.

Booker also walked back his equating of private equity attacks with GOP attacks on Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s controversial former pastor. In the “Meet the Press” interview, he mentioned both in the same breath while urging the negative campaigning to stop.

“Those can’t even be equated,” Booker said, adding: “You can’t even equate the negativity on the right with what’s happening by sectors on the left.”

Obama and Romney tied on the economy: A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Obama and Romney on equal footing when it comes to the economy.

The poll shows Obama leading 49 percent to 46 percent overall, but when asked who would be better to handle the economy going forward, they are deadlocked at 47 percent.

Voters are also split evenly on the question of who can jump start the economy and who can create jobs.

These measures will likely be the most important measures of the campaign, so it’s no surprise that when they are close, the overall race is close.

It’s primary day!: In addition to the presidential race in Arkansas, there are a few House primaries worth watching today in Arkansas and Kentucky.

Most notable are the seats held by retiring Reps. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) and Geoff Davis (R-Ky.). Democrats will also learn who their challenger for freshman Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.) is.

Stay tuned to The Fix this morning for a more detailed preview.

Fixbits:

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) on getting the VP call: “If I thought that call was coming, I would disconnect the phone.”

Florida Democrats try to tie Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) in a web video, with decidedly mixed results.

Majority PAC spends another $300,000 to run an ad for Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

Arizona Democratic Senate candidate Richard Carmona responds to a former boss’s allegations that he came to her house in the middle of the night yelling at her.

State Sen. Dan Liljenquist is up with his first TV ad in his primary against Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). It hits Hatch for refusing to debate him.

Liberal MSNBC host Ed Schultz says Massachusetts Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren should hold a press conference to explain her Native American roots and clear up looming questions.

Some Democratic senators aren’t exactly ramping up fundraising for 2014.

Iowa Republicans join Arizona Republicans in questioning Obama’s status as a natural-born citizen.

Must-reads:

Super PACs Shift Focus to Congressional Races” — Eliza Newlin Carney, Roll Call

Decision 2012 and the myth of the ‘Catholic vote’” — Michael O’Brien, MSNBC

‘Super PACs’ Let Strategists Off the Leash” — Nicholas Confessore, New York Times

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