As we told you yesterday, it's been announced that President Obama is coming back to his adopted home of Chicago to stump for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias. The stakes are big since this race is a piece of an important puzzle - nothing less than control of the U.S. Senate. Recently Obama has been chastised by his own party for not doing enough to help fellow Democrats in what is looking more and more like a disastrous mid-term election. So while this move was not at all unexpected, the timing of it really strikes me as odd, so I felt compelled to offer some additional observations.
First, as the Chicago Tribune pointed out, this visit, scheduled for August 5th, is likely going to come right in the middle of the defense's case in the Blagojevich corruption trial. Why Obama would want to be anywhere near this town while that is going on, is beyond me. Right now, based on the media reports, it seems very possible that Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, and presidential friend and adviser Valerie Jarrett, will both be testifying at the trial.
There also remain a lot of unanswered questions regarding Obama's connection to Blagojevich's attempts to trade the power to name an appointee to the senate seat that Obama was vacating that so far, has not gotten a ton of national attention. The White House has been very, very silent on any discrepancies that have emerged between the story that was originally told regarding Obama's lack of involvement, and the seemingly contradictory testimony of union boss Tom Balanoff. More here.
You can bet that if Obama steps in front of the cameras in Chicago, this is going to be something that will be brought up. Obama may be able to avoid taking questions, but Alexi is another story. If he doesn't keep up his media contacts, he'll be accused of running away, as both he and opponent Mark Kirk have been so chastised at various points in this campaign already.
Clearly, Obama is coming in to save Alexi. But why now? Is it really to bolster Alexi's fundraising? An August 5th event is coming up right around the corner, and seems hardly any time at all to get together a successful event that brings in major dough, whether it's a small high-dollar affair or a cattle-call for the masses. Leaving aside whether Obama's ability to attract money for candidates (or votes for that matter) is what it once was, why is this event scheduled on such short notice?
We're not going to see any more official fundraising reports for some months, so unless Giannoulias chose to reveal (brag) about any results, we'll not find out if Obama's junket actually brings in any money. By that wisdom, you would think that Obama should have made more of an effort to show up before the Q2 deadline, but on the other hand, given the lackluster fundraising results from the visits of VP Joe Biden and other Obama surrogates, maybe it's better for Alexi that the potential results of this event will remain unknown.
Is Obama coming to tap down any behind-the-scenes suggestions that Alexi should step aside in favor of a Dem candidate that would have a better chance against Kirk? Rumors of Alexi being forced out abounded before Mark Kirk's flap over his military record; has concern among the Dems sprung back up given Alexi's Q2 fundraising debacle?
And, getting back to that August 5th date, does Obama plan so many more trips for Alexi that even if the first one is a bust, he'll be back plenty of times? Well, for better or worse, the President does have a lot of other candidates to try to boost besides basketball-buddy Alexi. And if several more appearances by Obama are in the works, that's going to dilute the excitement of any of these appearances. The Obama brand is already watered-down enough, even in his home state.
Well, there are certainly a lot of questions here. When Obama does come to town, I suspect that reporters will be waiting to spring many more, at least to Alexi, if they can't get the President to answer them himself.
UPDATED 11:10 a.m.: Looks like president advisor Valerie Jarrett won't testify in the Blago trial, but Rahm Emanuel still might. h/t Capitol Fax Blog.
UPDATED x2 12:35 p.m.: Here's NBC-5's Ward Room Blog's take on this:
Obama can’t afford to let the kid blow this race. His own prestige is on the line. If Giannoulias blows this, Republicans will crow that Obama’s own home state is rejecting his leadership.