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Obama Sits Out Campaigning As Fill-Ins Stump For Democrats


Next we'll report on Democratic Party efforts to deal with an uneasy reality. President Obama is not so popular as midterm elections approach. Except for a handful of states in fact, he can't really campaign for Democrats. The party thinks he would hurt more than he would help. So other Democrats have been drawn in instead, and NPR's Don Gonyea's been listening to them. Hi, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So who are some of the highest profile Democrats?

GONYEA: The big names, all women - Hillary Clinton, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Michelle Obama - they've all been out there. They've all been all over the place. They say similar things, but each appeals to different parts, different factions of the party.

INSKEEP: Well, let's listen to some of the things they're saying, starting with Elizabeth Warren.

GONYEA: OK, she is really the new kind of rock star in the party. She's a liberal firebrand. She's unapologetically progressive. We've heard her described all these ways. She speaks to the heart and soul of the activists in the Democratic Party. They love her, and, you know, that song, "It's All About That Bass" - my daughter rolls her eyes as I say that. She is all about the base and her appearances reflect that. Listen to this, Sunday in Iowa on behalf of the U.S. Senate candidate there, Bruce Braley.


SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN: The Republicans have made clear their basic vision of how to build a country, how to build a future. Their vision is that government should work for those at the top, for those who have money, for those who have power, for those who can hire armies of lobbyists and lawyers. Our vision, Bruce Braley's vision, my vision is that we make government work for the people. That's what this election is about.

INSKEEP: OK, edgy, populace, liberal, getting a big cheer from the crowd - at least there. Then there's Hillary Clinton who has been seen as more of a centrist figure, hasn't she?

GONYEA: A centrist figure in the party, kind of reflecting where her husband, the former president, came from as well. The interesting thing is, though, you cannot watch Hillary Clinton on a stump without presuming she's running for president. The audience presumes that. So that hangs over everything, OK.

So she is giving them, though, not unlike Senator Warren, kind of a mix of New Deal populism, also a little nostalgia. She mentions President Obama once in a while, but not too much. She's been visible in the South, as has Bill Clinton, you know, red states that he won when he was running for president. But she's also going to battleground states and places where Democrats are strong but could use a little help. This is from the Detroit suburb of Rochester, Michigan.


HILLARY CLINTON: There is honor in hard work, and there is worth and dignity in every human being. And everyone deserves, not just a chance, but a second chance and even a third chance at a better life for themselves and their families.

INSKEEP: You can just hear that classic Clinton rhetoric,(imitating President Bill Clinton) going to help those who work hard and play by the rules.

GONYEA: Exactly, it's her version of it.

INSKEEP: But there's also an Obama on the campaign trail, just not the unpopular one.

GONYEA: Exactly, the first lady. People forget that her approval ratings are still north of 60 percent. She is very popular with the public, generally. She is especially popular with the base. She also helps with minority turnout. She's out there as the defender in chief, making her husband's case. She's been all over. Here she is.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are better off today than when Barack first took office - by any measure.


OBAMA: And I'm not just talking as a wife, because I do love my husband and I think he's marvelous and he is doing an outstanding job...

INSKEEP: OK, so these are the surrogates in effect, that the Democrats have been relying on because they can't, in most states, rely on the president to campaign for them. Of course the Republicans have their own big guns out there, right?

GONYEA: How about these names - Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney - most at least doing it with an eye toward 2016.

INSKEEP: Don, thanks very much.

GONYEA: Pleasure.

INSKEEP: That's NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea. And next week, we will check in with Don to hear what some of those big-name Republicans are saying as they finish the 2014 campaign and also make the unofficial start of 2016.


Yeah, it's getting closer. And a reminder that for more news, political or otherwise - we've had lots of different stuff on the show this morning - you can follow us on Facebook, also on Twitter @MorningEdition, @nprgreene. And the gentleman sitting to my right, you can find him at @NPRinskeep.

INSKEEP: Thank you very much.

GREENE: You are listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

INSKEEP: And I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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