If the homestretch of a campaign brings to mind the state fair—the crisp fall air, the abundance of fried foods, pigs!—then the most popular carnival game on the Midterms Midway has been Democratic candidates distancing themselves from Barack Obama. As The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank recently pointed out, a few Democrats, like Michelle Nunn in Georgia, have done it with subtlety and grace. But most of them have been so clumsy and lame in their efforts to back away from Obama—whether it was Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky ludicrously refusing to say whether she voted for the president, or Mark Udall in Colorado hilariously boasting that he is “the last person [the White House] wants to see coming”—that they’ve just ended up doing more damage to themselves.
Now it’s Kay Hagan’s turn to take a spin on the Obama Tilt-a-Whirl. This morning, MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt aired a portion of her recent interview with Hagan in which she asked the North Carolina Senator whether she thought Obama was a strong leader. Hagan's answer wasn’t terribly illuminating:
I’ll have a longer story on the North Carolina Senate race, in which Hagan is facing off against State House Speaker Thom Tillis, next week. But earlier today, when I caught up with Hagan after an “early voting” rally she did for UNC students in Chapel Hill, I asked her if she wanted to clarify her thoughts on whether she thought Obama was a strong leader. I thought her answer was worth sharing now.
“You know, I think that when issues come up for a vote, I stand for North Carolina, whether it’s a Democratic idea or a Republican idea, and I certainly oppose the president in issues where I think that it’s not right for our state,” Hagan said, going on to note her opposition to various trade deals and defense cuts, as well as her support for the Keystone Pipeline. “On the other hand, Speaker Tillis cannot name one issue, one issue, where he would oppose the president—not the president—where he would oppose his party.”
I asked Hagan what, in particular, she thought Obama had been strong on. “I go back to some of the issues that have affected our country,” she said. “I think on two issues in particular, just recently, he’s been slow to act on Ebola and on ISIS. When the BP spill took place in the Gulf, we were beginning to be slow, but then he put the resources to bear and the science to bear to help solve that very disastrous problem.”
So Hagan, who arguably rode Obama’s coattails into the Senate back in 2008, thinks that the one area where Obama’s shown strong leadership was on the Gulf oil spill four years ago—but, even there, he wasn’t particularly strong.
If you’re keeping score at home, I’d say that Hagan’s performance in the Back-Away-from-Barack game isn’t as terrible as Grimes’s and Udall’s, but it’s a far cry from Nunn’s. Then again, out of all those Democrats, Hagan is currently the only one leading in the polls.