Rep. Tom Allen: Obama Needs Bigger Dem Majorities In Congress
One of Barack Obama's recent high profile endorsers has two pieces of advice for the Illinois Democrat: don't nudge Hillary Clinton out of the primary before she's ready, and pray for big Democratic congressional majorities in the fall election.
"Half of the lesson of the past year is that a president [can easily obstruct the will of Congress]," Rep. Tom Allen, the Democratic challenger to Sen. Susan Collins in Maine, told The Huffington Post. "The other half of the lesson is that in the U.S. Senate, 51-49 doesn't cut it. You can't make the Senate work when it is narrowly divided. Fifty-seven or 58 Democrats give Obama a working majority, something he could effectively use to address some the challenges we face, challenges that are much worse than when president Bush took office."
Allen, who announced his support for Obama on Monday, said that if the Democratic frontrunner wanted a "working majority" as president, it would require somewhere between five to seven additional Democratic Senators in office. Such a gain borders on the very optimistic even in this a favorably Democratic year. According to the Cook Political report, there are five Republican Senate seats vulnerable to Democratic takeover, and an additional two that could be won by a Democrat but are leaning towards the GOP.
But before entertaining congressional margins, Allen cautions that Obama first must work to bring the party together. And while Democratic unity does not necessitate choosing Clinton as the vice president -- though Allen did note that the former first lady is "obviously qualified" and should be "among those considered" -- it did require a smooth landing in what has been a somewhat turbulent primary campaign. That meant, at least by Allen's terms, no premature pushing of Clinton to leave the race, and, in exchange, no negative campaigning by the New York Democrat.
"It sounds," said Allen, "like she is certainly striking a different tone from what I hear her saying today compared to before North Carolina. And that is helpful by itself. That is part of what we need if we are going to reconcile these two camps in a responsible way."
Ending the primary battle aside, Allen saw (and explained away) other political tripwires in Obama's path. Concerning Obama's potential fundraising dilemma -- he could opt into the public financing system for the general election and earn credits among government reform groups or forgo the funding to allow for a serious financial advantage over John McCain -- Allen, a proponent of public funding, argued that the Senator had already successfully maneuvered a middle ground.
"I do believe that he has transformed presidential fundraising by relying so much on relatively small donors," Allen said. "We don't have all that many healthy developments in the world of political finance, but that is a healthy development. And I think there is a very good argument -- he has a choice now and he should consider what works best for him. And certainly, the fact that he's relying on so many smaller donors is a wonderful, remarkable breakthrough when it comes to fundraising."
As for the argument, made most recently by the Clinton campaign, that the Illinois Democrat would not prove as great a help to down-ticket Democrats in toss-up districts, Allen noted that both time and energy are on Obama's side.
"The two of them would play differently in different parts of the country," he said. "Remember, we have till November. If a week is a lifetime in politics, then five and a half months is an eternity. I believe Barack Obama filled the theme and context of change better than anyone I've seen in a very long time. There are very similar parallels to what Bill Clinton did in 1992... and as the candidate who certainly in Maine and across the country was able to draw independents and many Republicans, that is a very powerful position to run from."
Indeed, Obama's support in Maine, where he won the Democratic caucus by some 4,000 votes, could be a significant boost to Allen's own electoral hopes.
"[Obama] and I share important priorities," said Allen. "We want to achieve universal health care, we want to reign in these gas prices that are going through the roof, we have to have a climate change policy that makes us freer of foreign oil, we have to bring our troops home from Iraq and help the middle class business community. It is not change that we can pry together in a night. The Senate races and this presidential race will be fought along many of the same lines and have the same implications."