The postmortems offered by defeated candidates cannot always be taken at face value, especially if the candidate lost by a big margin. But Alex Sink, the defeated Democratic candidate for governor of Florida lost by a small margin (67,000 votes out of more than 5 million cast) and her analysis of that narrow defeat seems quite plausible.
Sink blamed her defeat on the “tone deafness” of the Obama White House. She told Politico that White House operatives “weren’t interested in hearing my opinion on what was happening on the ground with the oil spill, and they never acknowledged that they had problems with the acceptance of health care reform.” Health care reform was a particular problem for Democrats in Florida, where old voters are especially influential. Seniors are not amused, for example, by the slashing of Medicare funding.
President Obama should not necessarily be expected to tailor his national agenda to suit the needs of gubernatorial candidates or even members of Congress. For example, Obama viewed the passage of Obamacare type reform as morally imperative, and thus not properly the subject of raw political objections.
However, the administration should at least have been willing to allow candidates whose constituents aren’t enamored with his left-liberalism to distance themselves from the president. According to Sink, , though, the White House fought her attempts to create such distance. Here’s Politco:
Multiple Democratic sources familiar with Sink’s campaign said administration officials were more concerned about the candidate’s effort to separate herself from the White House than with helping her win. She needed some distance and the smart thing to do was allow her to have that distance,” said a Democratic operative familiar with the race. “That would have served their long-term interest.”
But when the candidate criticized the White House response to the oil spill and specifically a summer speech by Vice President Joe Biden in a Politico article, an angry administration official called her to demand she “walk back” her assessment, said two sources familiar with the situation. Sink didn’t deny the exchange.
It seems clear enough that this administration’s egotism trumps its alleged pragmatism.
UPDATE: Here’s another amusing tidbit from the Politico story:
In the spring, when Sink’s campaign was adrift and desperately in need of a shake-up, there was a meeting in Washington with a group of senior Democrats. Following the meeting, a mid-level White House political official sent out a one-page memo that operatives saw as so illustrative of the Obama team’s cluelessness about the race that they had it laminated and regularly mocked it. The document, obtained by Politico, included such numbered headers as “Hire Key Staff” and “Develop and present a holistic campaign plan.”