Incumbents from Ohio go separate ways on same goal of reelection
Sunday, September 12, 2010; 4:10 AM
COSHOCTON, OHIO - When President Obama took the stage at a campaign-style rally in Cleveland last week, sitting in the front row was Rep. John Boccieri, who drove more than 60 miles to get a presidential shout-out.
Nowhere to be seen was another Democrat from Ohio, Rep. Zack Space, who was dealing with a "personal family matter," according to his campaign. Not that it was likely to matter - Space skipped an appearance with Obama in nearby Columbus last month, choosing instead to drive around his district, campaigning on his own.
This is how it has been this year for these junior lawmakers from neighboring districts - one has embraced Obama and the Democratic agenda and the other has distanced himself from the president and the party. It's the same choice being made by Democrats across the country as they try to figure out a winning strategy in a year that looks bleak.
In Virginia, one freshman, Rep. Tom Perriello (D), has become a hero on the left because of his aggressive embrace of Obama and his agenda, while another, Rep. Glenn Nye (D), is quietly distancing himself and touting his independence in voting against key Obama agenda items. And in Senate races, some Democrats have had mysterious scheduling conflicts when Obama has visited their states.
Although there is debate among Democrats about which approach makes the most sense, party leaders are willing to abide both - at least for now - if it means holding onto their congressional majorities.
A year ago, Obama warned Democrats against running from his agenda, saying Republicans "won't go any easier on you." But at a news conference on Friday, he took a different view.
"We're in a political season where every candidate out there has their own district, their own makeup, their own plan, their own message," he said. "And in an environment where we've still got 9.5 percent unemployment, people are going to make the best argument they can right now. And they're going to be taking polls of what their particular constituents are saying, and trying to align with that."
But once the election ends and there's a verdict on which strategy, if either, is a winner, the results will have serious consequences for the direction of the party.
If candidates like Boccieri win, liberals will use the results as proof that party members should stick to their progressive ideals. But if the Zack Spaces are victorious, many Democrats will see it as a sign that the president's first two years were overly ambitious and as cause to take a more centrist approach.
If both lose, it could doom Democrats across the Interstate 70 corridor, showing that sustained double-digit unemployment makes survival impossible for almost any Democrat and a sign of just how tough Obama's reelection prospects will be across the Rust Belt.