President Obama’s top political advisor, David Axelrod, said today that it was too early for “post-mortems” on imperiled Democratic Senate candidate Martha Coakley in Massachusetts.
In a pencil-and-pad briefing with reporters, Axelrod said that the White House would have done more to help Coakley withstand a challenge from Republican Scott Brown in today’s special election to fill the seat of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D) – if it had been asked.
“I’m not going to delve deeply into post-mortems on the day people are voting,” Axelrod said, adding that he expected Coakley to win.
Still it was evident that the president’s political team is prepared to distance Obama from electoral disaster, should that occur tonight. Though a GOP victory in the deep-blue state would no doubt be framed as a rejection of Obama’s ambitious first-year agenda, Axelrod said they were “local issues at play” that hurt Coakley. He also praised Brown’s “very clever” campaign. “As a practitioner of politics, my hat’s off to him,” Axelrod said.
The strategist pushed back against criticism from some quarters that he and the political team had been taken by surprise by the Democrats’ troubles in the Bay State. “It’s not exactly a revelation to us” that voters are stressed and angry after a year in which millions of Americans have lost their jobs and many people say they see no proof the economy is rebounding.
Axelrod’s remarks came in the context of the first anniversary of Obama’s inauguration tomorrow.
Asked whether Obama should have done more than make an 11th hour trip to Massachusetts to try to prevent a defeat that would be a huge setback to the president’s agenda, Axelrod said no.
“The White House did everything we were asked to do,” he said. “If we had been asked earlier, we would have been responded earlier.”
Brown has said he would be the 41st vote in the Senate against the health-care overhaul, endangering or possibly killing the Obama policy priority that has dominated most of the past year on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Axelrod said that the tight Massachusetts race indicated that it’s a “tough environment for incumbents generally” and Democrats in particular. He served notice, though, that the party will carry a more populist message forward in the 2010 midterm elections.
Voters will be offered a choice between a party that is “fighting for the middle class” and an opposition that sides with “insurance companies and special interest” in defending the “status quo.”