Did Obama Endorse Van Hollen Yesterday?

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The White House yesterday condemned an ad that was – and is – the centerpiece of Donna Edwards’ campaign. As the day went on, the media narrative shifted from the ad itself to President Obama’s appearance in it. That was NOT the complaint. The complaint was that the ad was “deceptive” and “misleading.” Which it is.

So was this a secret code version of an endorsement? I have no basis for such a conclusion, but an opinion piece at Roll Call early this morning says that’s exactly what it was. And the author is a journalist, not a shrieking harpy of a blogger caught up in campaign fever. Jonathan Allen is a former bureau chief for Bloomberg News, and has worked at Vox, Roll Call, Politico and other political news outlets. Here’s what he wrote today:

Here’s what you can expect these days if you’re a Democrat who tried to advance President Barack Obama’s agenda over the last two terms: Hard-hitting attacks from liberals who are envious of the tea party’s success in defeating compromise in Washington.

Their latest target is Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, a kitchen-cabinet adviser to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Van Hollen is matched up against fellow Rep. Donna Edwards in a Maryland Senate primary on April 26 that cleaves the state’s Democratic voters along racial, gender and ideological lines.
The race is close, with Edwards holding a one point lead in the Real Clear Politics average of the most recent public polling, and benefiting from millions of dollars in interest-group money.
Edwards and her allies are attacking Van Hollen for a variety of purported sins against progressivism, most notably his efforts to cut deals on the federal budget and campaign finance reform. In both cases, he was acting as an agent of Democratic leaders in Congress and the White House.

It’s the latter issue, campaign finance reform, on which Van Hollen’s foes have been most disingenuous and spiteful—so much so that, according to news reports, White House political director David Simas asked a super PAC called Working for Us to pull an ad using footage of the president tearfully talking about victims of gun violence to punch Van Hollen for a small concession he made to the National Rifle Association on a White House-backed bill that had nothing to do with guns.
Obama is officially neutral in the race, but congressional Democrats I spoke to about the episode said they read the White House’s intervention as an implicit endorsement of Van Hollen. Even if it’s just a shield for a longtime ally, it’s a clear foul call against Van Hollen’s rival, who is running a similar ad that doesn’t include the president’s image. That measure of support for a political friend is uncommon for a president who has tried not to muddy his hands in intraparty electoral fights.

Allen’s assessment of the race is dead on. I don’t have anywhere near the access he does on the Hill (I don’t have any access at all, to be blunt), but a bunch of my campaign sources do, and they say the same thing. If consummate team player Chris Van Hollen loses this race in a freaking primary specifically because of his hard work, who’s ever going to step up like he has in the future?

It wasn’t an accident that Obama’s reaction to the superPAC ad came the day before early voting started here in Maryland.

Vote accordingly.

3 thoughts on “Did Obama Endorse Van Hollen Yesterday?

  1. Aaron K

    Powerful piece — thank you for for sharing. I continue to enjoy the innovative forms of endorsement that have cropped up this election cycle:

    – the (possible) “coded” endorsement by President Obama in CD8
    – Sen. Lindsey Graham “endorsing” Cruz over Trump, reflecting his preference for poison over getting shot
    – the Capital Gazette’s apparent distinction between “strongly” endorsing in CD8 but endorsing in a “close decision” in CD4

  2. Tracy De Jong

    This piece is just untrue. Van Hollen did carve out an exemption for the NRA in campaign disclosures in the hopes that the bill would pass. The problem is that many of us would want to know who the NRA is funding. Many other Democrats attacked Van Hollen on this carve out at the time–including Dianne Feinstein.

    1. Jonathan Shurberg Post author

      For all of its sins, the NRA is not, was not, and has not ever been a source of dark money. They don’t fund super PACs, they fund candidates, directly and openly, and this was one of the reasons 217 Democrats in the House voted for the compromise.

      So I call BS on your “want to know” argument here. You wanna know what the NRA is doing? Go look at the FEC reports. Then you’ll know.

      On the other hand, Donna Edwards took advantage of the dark money system to have a super PAC run by a personal friend, Steve Rosenthal, get huge amounts of dark money from a hedge fund manager, while for months claiming that Van Hollen was “too cozy” with Wall Street. We only found out late this week about the Edwards super PAC sleaze funnel two days ago.

      I think Maryland voters would have “wanted to know” that hypocrisy months ago. Don’t you?


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