In Run-Up To Midterms, Obama Scarce From Campaign Trail

Why President Obama is M.I.A.

October 13, 2014, 11:00 AM
PHOTO: President Barack Obama speaks about the participation of five Arab nations in airstrikes against militants in Syria., Sept. 23, 2014, on the South Lawn the White House, in Washington, before heading to the United Nations.
President Barack Obama speaks about the participation of five Arab nations in airstrikes against militants in Syria., Sept. 23, 2014, on the South Lawn the White House, in Washington, before heading to the United Nations.
J. Scott Applewhite / AP Photo

— -- Just three weeks to go until the midterm elections and with control of the Senate hanging in the balance, candidates are scrambling toward the finish line.

One key figure, however, has been largely absent: President Obama.

President Obama has appeared at zero public campaign events this cycle, opting instead to tap into his fundraising prowess to boost Democratic candidates behind closed-doors.

Obama’s absence on the trail underscores how the president has become a political liability for many candidates. With his approval rating down in the dumps, a personal visit from Obama would likely hurt rather than help his party’s cause in the hotly contested states.

Obama is expected to step-up his public presence on the campaign trail in these final weeks, but likely only in deep blue states. He will attend his first public campaign rally for a candidate this Wednesday when he stumps for Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy.

It’s not unheard of for the president to be scarce in the run-up to the midterms. President George W. Bush headlined 15 rallies in 2006, but they were all in the final weeks, according to Brendan Doherty, professor of political science at the US Naval Academy and author of “The Rise of the President’s Permanent Campaign.”

Democratic Candidates Eager to Distance Themselves from the President

Not only is the president a persona non grata on the trail, Democratic candidates are going to great lengths to avoid being even remotely associated with him.

Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Kentucky Democrat challenging Senate Minority Leaders Mitch McConnell, has repeatedly declined to say whether she voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, including spending 40 seconds refusing to answer the question during an interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal last week.

“I don’t think that the president is on the ballot. As much as Mitch McConnell might want him to be, it’s my name, and it’s going to be me who’s holding him accountable for the failed decisions and votes that he has made against the people of Kentucky,” she said in response.

Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat, became tongue tied when asked earlier in the year if he wanted the president to campaign for him, telling CNN, “We’ll see what the president’s schedule is, we’ll see what my schedule is.”

“But Coloradoans are going to reelect me based on my record, not the president’s record, not what the president’s done, but what I’ve done and how I’ve stood up for Colorado,” he added.

Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor similarly stumbled when asked recently if he backed Obama’s handling of the Ebola crisis. “I would say that it’s a – it’s hard to know because I haven’t heard the latest briefing on that, you know,” he told MSNBC.

What Is the President Doing?

In lieu of public campaign appearances, the president has kept up a frenetic fundraising schedule away from cameras.

Last week alone, he raised money on both coasts, rubbing elbows with Hollywood stars at Gwyneth Paltrow’s home and traveling to Greenwich, Conn., for a $32,000 a plate fundraiser at the home of a real-estate billionaire named Rich Richman.

Obama has attended 59 fundraisers this year to fill his party’s coffers.

Top Obama Surrogates Hit the Trail

While Obama has stayed silent, his top surrogates are another story. The first lady and vice president have been crisscrossing the country to campaign publicly for Democrats.

Last week, the vice president missed a National Security Council meeting in Washington, a rare occurrence, to campaign for Sen. Jeff Merkley in Oregon and grab ice cream with the candidate.

The first lady, whose approval rating is far higher than her husband’s, has also been appearing with candidates and has taken things a step further, taping a campaign ad for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn.

ABC News’ Devin Dwyer and Erin Dooley contributed to this report.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events