President Obama stayed out of the race entirely, but his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, appeared at an event with Fenty and Rhee in the closing days of the election. It was not a campaign event, but Duncan was announcing the award of $75 million in new federal funding to D.C. schools. He noticeably did not appear at an event with Gray.
All this percolating animosity between school reformers and teachers unions could have real ramifications for Democrats politically. School reform is one area – maybe the one area – where President Obama has seen eye to eye with Republicans.
Sen. Lamar Alexander has praised Duncan and Obama on their school reform efforts, which focus on rewarding schools that perform. Likewise former Republican Governor Jeb Bush.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is eying a run for the Presidency in 2012, called Fenty and Rhee "an inspiration to me and reformers across the country" and used the Fenty loss to attack teachers unions.
"Mayor Fenty lost after the teachers' unions led a campaign against him and Michelle Rhee. Fenty's loss is further evidence that despite all their rhetoric about 'the children,' what the teachers' unions really care about is getting more money for jobs they can't lose at schools that produce students who are not prepared to compete," said Pawlenty in a statement.
The local Washington school system has long been a national political battlefield. Republicans have complained that Democrats voted to wind down a voucher program that allowed some 1,700 district students to attend much more expensive private schools at taxpayer expense.
This probably has something to do with President Obama steering clear of the D.C. mayoral primary. Even though his own policies in many ways mirror Fenty's, he could be in a tough spot if teachers' unions, usually an important constituency for Democrats, begin mobilizing against his education policy.