WASHINGTON – President Obama is coming to the Twin Cities on Thursday and bringing his slumping national approval ratings.
But Minnesota Democrats couldn’t be happier.
Even as Democrats up for re-election elsewhere are distancing themselves from Washington, Minnesota DFLers have lobbied hard to get the president to come for a substantive policy trip.
They succeeded. Obama will land in Minnesota, hold a town-hall meeting, attend a fundraiser at a private home for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, stay overnight and then make a speech about the economy.
He comes at a time when the 2014 midterm elections, including the re-election campaigns of Sen. Al Franken and Gov. Mark Dayton, are beginning to pick up steam. But Obama has some of the lowest poll numbers of his presidency. According to a CBS/New York Times poll released earlier this week, Obama’s job approval rating is 40 percent, with 54 percent registering disapproval of the job he’s doing. Elected Democrats in vulnerable districts are less than eager to be seen linking arms with the president.
“There is no one in the country right now that has the ability to excite young people and communities of color,” Minnesota DFL Party Chair Ken Martin said. “We’re very excited to have him come in and not only help our candidates but raise some money. Any appearance by the president in a state like Minnesota is a good thing.”
Obama will use his time here to launch a series of conversations in middle America about what regular people are up against. He will spend part of Thursday with a Minneapolis mother who wrote him a poignant letter about her struggles working and trying to keep pace with rising living costs, White House officials said.
Officials also noted one reason the president settled on Minnesota is because the state earlier this year raised the minimum wage — a signature issue for Democrats nationally. “We are extraordinarily supportive [of Minnesota], which is part of the reason why we’re going there,” White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said.
This is the seventh time Obama has visited Minnesota in his two-term presidency but his first overnight stay, according to CBS News’ Mark Knoller, who has kept track of presidential travel since 1996.
The DFL chair’s sentiment about voter turnout is a product of sheer DFL volume and midterm reality: DFLers hold a clear advantage in the number of voters statewide. They account for Minnesota’s top officeholders and run the Legislature. But those same voters, who turn out in record numbers when there is a presidential candidate on the ticket, tend to be less engaged and less interested in midterms.
Richard Keiser, a political-science professor at Carleton College, said the drawn-out battle before the Republican conventions last month may even exacerbate concerns. “It’s unclear whether Democrats have anything to fear,” Keiser said. “But they can’t afford to have the loyal troops taking it easy.”
Republicans say they hope to take advantage of Democratic malaise or complacency in what many expect will be close races. Franken and Dayton won in recounts. The GOP plans to use Obama’s visit to link Franken and Dayton to his policies, which they say don’t help Minnesota.
“Minnesota should remember that Al Franken stood by his side as Obamacare forced 140,000 Minnesotans off their insurance plans and our economy ground to a halt,” said Tom Erickson, a spokesman for Republican Senate candidate Mike McFadden. “We look forward to spending the next five months making the case why Minnesota would be better off with a political outsider like Mike than under someone like Al Franken who supports President Obama 98 percent of the time.”
Franken has been noncommittal about Obama’s trip, mostly because this week’s Senate votes are still in flux. Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s staffers said they weren’t sure whether she could attend.
Dayton was more enthusiastic. Asked whether appearing with Obama would be helpful, Dayton said, “I would be glad to appear with President Obama,” then added, “I would want to appear with any president of any political party.”
Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, who faces a tight race this fall against GOP candidate Stewart Mills, said he plans to join Obama for the fundraiser. “Rightly or wrongly these election contests cost a lot of money,” Nolan said. “This will be very helpful to our campaign, and I appreciate what the president is doing and him trying to help.”
Staff writer Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this report. Allison Sherry • 202-383-6120