Former President Barack Obama endorsed 81 Democratic candidates across the United States last week, but many Democrats believe his endorsements came too late in the primary season to most effectively help Democrats take back the House and Senate.
Democratic strategists, ex-Obama aides, and some of the people who helped fundraise for Obama were baffled by his decision to wait until most of the states' primaries had passed before making endorsements, according to the Hill. While Obama's decision to stay out of the primaries is consistent with the behavior of other previous presidents, a former Obama official said some of the Democratic candidates could have used his endorsement earlier.
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"I think a lot of us have wondered why he didn't feel the need to get involved earlier," one former senior Obama administration official said. "There are a lot of folks that could have used his help much earlier. And there are a lot of people who think he should put a stamp on the party."
A Democratic strategist said Donald Trump's presidency demands Obama's presence and that the former president needs to play a bigger role than his predecessors in the White House. Aides and others close to Obama, however, have pointed to his wish for others to take over as the face of the party, according to the Hill.
"These are not traditional times," said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon. "He's the most popular Democrat in our nation and we really need all the help we can get. So if I were advising him, I would have told him to get out there much sooner and get in the trenches because we're playing high stakes poker."
The release of the endorsement list, however, was consistent with Obama’s post-Oval Office goal of seeking to stay above the fray, and to not become more of a foil to Trump.
Aides and other people close to Obama have repeatedly said that his desire is to allow a new crop of Democrats to take over the party. Even in 2016, Obama avoided an outright endorsement of his former secretary of State, Hillary Clinon, during her primary fight with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
A source close to Obama said he has tried to apply the same logic to this year’s primaries.
While he realizes how much is at stake, he wanted to let the primaries play out without weighing in. He doesn’t want to be the leader of the resistance, other sources close to Obama say, because it will not be helpful to the party in the long term.
A source close to Obama said he will likely release more endorsements in future weeks, but that approach still left Obama snubbing some of his administration's former aides who were running in Virginia, Texas and California. Alison Kiehl Friedman and Ed Meier, who both worked at the State Department during the Obama administration, lost their Democratic primary races. Sam Jammal, a former commerce aide, also lost his primary in California.
"His endorsement during the primary would have changed the outcome of a number of races," one top Obama fundraiser said, arguing some of the candidates lost because their opponents used their lack of endorsements to paint their job performance as weak.
"Obama was playing it safe and doing what was best for him not them and not for the country," the fundraiser continued. "I love the guy but gotta call him out on some of this stuff when it happens."
Some former Obama aides and donors said they believe Obama didn't want to choose sides and wanted to hear from allies of various candidates. They noted his focus has also been on obtaining fundraisers to help him with his library and foundation.
While some Democrats are disappointed in Obama, Kate Merrill, who helps run the super PAC Fight Back California, said Obama's endorsements "created quite a buzz and are very helpful to the candidates" in California.
Seth Bringman, an Ohio-based Democratic strategist, shared the same sentiment as Merrill, saying candidates were "thrilled" to receive Obama's endorsement.
"Just knowing that their campaigns are on his radar energized volunteers and helped candidates raise money," Bringman said. "There's even a little impatience to get him back on the trail, because he can come to any media market in the Buckeye State and help us get back a lot of the voters we lost in 2016."
Despite optimism from some Democratic strategists, another said a lot of people believe Obama was a "bit half-assed" with his endorsement process.
"I was on a call this morning where it was coming up a lot," one Democratic strategist said. "I think a lot of people say it as lazy, a bit half-assed, and a little too methodical. There are ramifications for this and I hope we don’t suffer the consequences. We can’t just go red to blue. We need to make states blue for the long term."
"Now’s not the time to sit out and be too cute by half," the strategist said. "Where’s the audacity of hope?