Maybe you had the same reaction. I've been around politics for 30 years, but I don't remember seeing anything as dumb as Kentucky Democrat Alison Grimes' refusal to say whether or not she voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Asked that very simple, direct question by the editorial board of the Louisville Courier-Journal, she first tried to change the subject: "You know, this election isn't about the president. It's about making sure we put Kentuckians back to work." Pressed further, she ducked behind the Constitution: "I respect the sanctity of the ballot box, and I know that the members of this editorial board do as well."
That was bad enough. But four days later, in her first debate with the incumbent, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Grimes made it even worse, insisting that telling people how she voted would "compromise a constitutional right" to cast a secret ballot. Oh, please! Why not just tell the truth? Grimes would have saved herself a lot of grief, and maybe even saved her Senate campaign, if she'd just made a mockery of the question: "Come on! I'm the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate. You don't think I voted for Mitt Romney, do you?" Then, getting back to her message, she could have added: "Of course, I voted for Barack Obama. But that doesn't mean I support him on every issue, and I won't hesitate to vote against him as a U.S. senator."
Advertisement - story continues below
But if Alison Grimes made a mistake by distancing herself too much from President Obama, she's not alone. Almost every other Democratic Senate candidate this year has done the same thing. Obama could catch Ebola and he'd still get more love than he's getting from fellow Democrats. In state after state, in response to Obama's offer to stump for their campaign, Democratic candidates for the Senate have said: "Thanks, but no thanks." Think this year's big Senate races: New Hampshire, North Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Colorado, Alaska, Michigan. Obama has appeared in not one of them, nor is he scheduled to between now and Election Day.
The one Senate candidate to appear publicly with the president in the 2014 mid-term elections is Dick Durbin of Illinois, Obama's home state. Obama has campaigned for only two candidates for governor: Pat Quinn of Illinois and Anthony Brown of Maryland. So far this season, in fact, they're the only two campaign rallies he's attended. Meanwhile, of course, he's been helping in another, all-important way: headlining 62 high-ticket fundraisers for House and Senate Democrats.
Now, I understand that Democratic candidates paid their campaign advisers a lot of money for telling them to shun President Obama, but I will tell them for free: I think they're making a big mistake, and for three good reasons. First of all, as with Alison Grimes, whom do they think they're kidding? They're Democrats. Everybody knows they're Democrats. They're not going to fool anybody by pretending not to know Barack Obama. And standing with him doesn't mean you agree with him on everything.
Second, by turning their backs on President Obama, Democratic candidates are only helping their opponents by validating the central theme of the GOP that Obama's been a total failure as president. True, progressives, especially, are disappointed in Obama. But he's still a heck of a lot better than Mitt Romney. And he's accomplished a lot – Obamacare, economy, job creation, minimum wage – Democrats can brag about and run on. For Democrats, embracing the Republican lie that nothing good has come out of the Obama administration is hardly a winning strategy.
Advertisement - story continues below
Third, and most important, those Democrats running from Obama forget the most critical factor in mid-term elections: VOTER TURNOUT. The time for persuasion is over. By this point, almost every voter has made his or her choice. The challenge now is getting them out to the polls. That's especially important for Democrats, who tend to stay home in mid-terms. Democrats can only win on Nov. 4 if they persuade their base – young people, African-Americans, Latinos and women – to turn out and vote. And who's the best person to do that? Barack Obama. He proved it in 2008 and 2012, pulling voters out in record numbers. He could do it again in 2014 – if only Democratic candidates would let him.
The race for control of the Senate is a jump ball. Democrats could still win and hold on to the Senate. If they don't, it'll be their own dumb fault.