02/10/2014 05:45 pm ET Updated Feb 10, 2014

Democratic Senators Need A Better 2014 Plan Than Just 'Stay Away Obama'

Probably one of the easiest stories you can write in an election year is the one where you find some vulnerable members of Congress running for reelection who would very much prefer that the president take a pass at visiting their districts. So, Politico wrote the one for this year, and now no one else has to:

The White House and Senate Democrats are preparing an extensive midterm campaign strategy built around one unavoidable fact: Hardly any candidates in the most competitive states want President Barack Obama anywhere near them.

POLITICO spoke with nearly every incumbent up for reelection and aspiring Democratic Senate candidates across the country, but only a handful gave an unequivocal “yes” when asked whether they wanted Obama to come campaign with them.

"I don’t care to have him campaign for me," said Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), citing a number of issues on which he is at odds with the Obama White House, such as opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling, and also something having to do with timber industry permitting. Not mentioned is Begich's stance on Social Security, which is also at odds with Obama's -- Begich wants to join an effort to expand it, while Obama wants to cut it through chained CPI. That's probably because the notion of a vulnerable senator distancing himself from the president for being not liberal enough returns a "404 error" when it's fed into this paradigm. But I digress.

The thing I find most compelling about the "people don't want the president to campaign with them story" is the unanswered question: does this strategy work? Let's recall that in 2010, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) staged her own "break with Obama" opera, demanding that he "push back against people in our own party that want extremes." In short order, her campaign website filed a report titled, "Lincoln challenges Obama on liberal 'extremes.'" That was subsequently picked up by Politico. Hoo, boy, you guys, Blanche Lincoln was straight up putting distance between herself and the president. And now she's known as ex-Sen. Blanche Lincoln.

Hey, she was just following a path well-trod by others. In the lead-up to the 2008 election, Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) told Bloomberg TV that he did not want President George W. Bush to come anywhere near the Granite State: “No, I think the President’s popularity unfortunately is at a fairly low level.” It was a break from the 2002 campaign, in which Sununu was elected over Democratic challenger Jeanne Shaheen. At that time, Bush was a welcome presence on the campaign trail -- Sununu brought him to New Hampshire just days before the election. But, in 2008, he took a different path, and now Jeanne Shaheen is in the Senate.

Perhaps I'd think more favorably on this distance-yourself-from-the-presidency strategy if a coherent outcome could be identified. As far as I can tell, the only thing it does is prevent a photograph from being taken of the president with the candidate in question, which could in turn be used in attack ads. But, then ... so what? If there's a Democratic politician out there who can legitimately say that the effort made to distance himself from Obama stopped his opponent from trying to tie them together, by all means, let me know!

Look, I can understand why so many Democratic incumbents are jaded. There's a handful of senators whose votes on the Affordable Care Act were a bit courageous, and now they all have to live with the bungled rollout of the HealthCare.gov website. The Obama White House didn't cover its end of the deal on a matter those lawmakers had no control over, and now they have to eat it. Strong criticism of the thing that screwed them over is warranted.

Of course, voters would rather hear about how these incumbents plan to make government work better than about how they're the passive victims of other people's decisions. So if they want to be picky about sharing a stage with the president, that's fine. But sooner or later, they'll have to come up with a reason why people should vote for them all by themselves.

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