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Some Democratic candidates distance themselves from Obama

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Aug. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine talks about the political party's strategy for the November congressional elections. Kaine speaks with Lizzie O'Leary in an interview to air on Bloomberg Television's "Political Capitl With Al Hunt' this weekend. Bloomberg's Julie Hyman also speaks. (Source: Bloomberg)

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By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 16, 2010

Fight or flight?

That is the question Democratic incumbents and challengers in this fall's elections are asking themselves when it comes to dealing with President Obama. Is the best course to distance oneself from a president whose job-approval rating has sunk below 50 percent and whose appeal to independents has gone missing? Or to embrace him and his policies -- the majority of which remain quite popular with the Democratic base that will be essential to any victories that the party claims this fall?

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Powerful forces are lining up on both sides of that strategic divide.

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Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine made clear in an interview with "Fox & Friends" last week that he thinks candidates distancing themselves from the president -- and from high-profile congressional leaders such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- are making the wrong move. "I can tell you Democrats who kind of are afraid to be who they are, or pushing back on their leaders, I think they're crazy," Kaine said.

And yet, in campaigns across the country, many Democrats are doing just that.

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In Indiana, Rep. Joe Donnelly is running a television ad in which he details his generally conservative stance on immigration while images of Obama and Pelosi are shown on screen. "That may not be what the Washington crowd wants, but I don't work for them," Donnelly says in the ad. "I work for you."

Rep. Travis Childers, who represents a district in northern Mississippi where Obama won just 38 percent of the vote in 2008, takes a similar approach in his TV advertising -- promoting the fact that he has "voted against every big budget" since winning a special election two years ago.

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Even some Democratic candidates who are being heavily touted by the White House appear determined to keep the president at arm's length. Shortly after Obama played a lead role in helping Sen. Michael Bennet defeat former state House speaker Andrew Romanoff in a Democratic primary fight last Tuesday, Bennet was asked whether he would want the president to campaign with him this fall. "We'll have to see," Bennet told ABC's George Stephanopoulos -- a response well short of a ringing endorsement of Obama's political standing.

One senior Democratic consultant suggested that the distance candidates are seeking to put between themselves and Obama is reflective of the ascendance of economic issues in voters' minds. "Barack Obama's economic policy of spending our way out of recession is seen as a failure at best and harmful at worst," the source said. "That should tell candidates in competitive jurisdictions all they need to know about running with the president."


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