The Campaign Spot

The Endorsement Equivalent of Voting ‘Present’

Chris Cillizza, writing in the Washington Post, on Obama’s last-second, little-seen ad in New York’s 20th congressional district:

The Democratic National Committee released an advertisement featuring President Obama’s image and touting his endorsement of Scott Murphy in tomorrow’s special election for a House seat in Upstate New York.

The spot attracted some attention as the first time that President Obama has weighed in with a televised endorsement of a candidate.

What the ad won’t draw much of, however, is viewers.

The DNC spent a meager $10,000 on the ad, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission — a pittance in the world of political television. So very few actual voters in the Albany media market will ever see the Obama ad.

Why spend any money, then? Because the DNC and the White House want to ensure that they won’t get blamed if Murphy comes up short. Producing an ad, any ad, gives them political cover.

If Murphy wins, it will be touted as evidence that the president’s popularity can carry Democrats to victory even in right-leaning districts; if Murphy loses, we’ll be assured that the result is not a reflection on the president or his policies, but the ideological makeup of the district and qualities of the two candidates.

It’s the political equivalent of voting “present,” you could say. A man who wouldn’t risk a few percentage points of his approval rating to stop a trade war with Mexico over 100 Mexican trucks making deliveries on U.S. roads, or to say that imposing a retroactive 90 percent tax rate on bonuses is a bad idea, sure as heck isn’t going to risk the perception of his popularity over a mere House race.

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