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Obama to re-emerge in ‘delicate dance’ with Dems

The Hill logo The Hill 8/11/2017 Amie Parnes
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Former President Obama will re-emerge on the national scene this fall, though Democrats expect him to do so with caution.

One aide describes the beginning of a "delicate dance" that aims to put Obama in the Democratic fray, but prevent him from remaining the face of the party.

Aides will huddle with Obama in the coming weeks to plot out what shape the former president's fall schedule will take. Advisers close to him say that while he will play an active role in helping his party rebuild, much of his work will be behind the scenes.

He is likely to take on fundraising, for example, something he has done for the Democratic National Committee and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee since leaving office.

In recent months, Obama has played a larger behind the scenes role than was publicly known.

The Hill reported in July that he met with DNC Chairman Tom Perez as well as lawmakers at his office to give his guidance on a number of issues.

But advisers to the former president acknowledge he also doesn't want to be "a foil" -as one top ally put it - for President Trump and the Republican leadership.

In recent months, Trump blamed Obama for doing "nothing" about Russia's involvement in the 2016 election. He also taunted him for never coming to a Boy Scout jamboree and went after his policies on everything from healthcare to Cuba and North Korea.

Obama has chosen to remain silent. And even during the recent healthcare fight over his signature legislation, for example, he sought to keep a low profile.

Obama to re-emerge in ‘delicate dance’ with Dems © Provided by The Hill Obama to re-emerge in ‘delicate dance’ with Dems "He has to be careful," said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. "At a moment when President Trump's approval is falling so fast-including with his base-there is a risk for Obama taking center stage and triggering the energy that many Republicans currently lack."

"He would be the target against which Trump would direct his fury," added Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. "From Trump's perspective nothing better could happen."

Jillson said that a light Obama footprint on the national stage could allow breathing room for future Democratic leaders to emerge.

"He'll tread lightly because he is not going to be the face of the party when it actually counts in 2020 and 2024," Jillson added. "So the extent to which he would emerge and speak to a wide range of issues would preclude the emergence of someone else. They must find a standard bearer for future elections and I think he can at least in the short term suck up all the available oxygen."

To that point, Democrats have also worried about Hillary Clinton's presence on the national stage.

Clinton is slated to release a book this fall titled "What Happened" in which she is promising to provide candid details on why she thinks she lost the 2016 presidential election.

Democrats are feeling angst about Clinton's reemergence, worrying that it will point to a party looking backward instead of forward.

"It's wise for both Clinton and Obama to hang back at this point," one Democratic strategist said. "Otherwise our party will have an even harder time rebounding.

"We already lack a party leader, we lack a vision, we lack an identity," the strategist said bluntly. "We can't remain stuck in the past."

Since leaving office, Obama's approval rating remains high at 63 percent, according to a Gallup survey conducted in June.

"President Obama has amongst the highest Q rating in the world - exceeding LaBron [James], [Lionel] Messi and George Clooney - and is most certainly the most popular active political figure in the U.S.," said Democratic strategist Chris Lehane. "[He] s incredibly popular with base Democratic voters who are critical cohorts in the midterms from a turnout perspective.

Democratic strategist David Wade added that, "it's a great moment for President Obama to emerge."

Unlike many of his recent predecessors, he left office without scandal and with high approval ratings," Wade said. "And with the incumbent president in the White House bogged down by investigation and deep unpopularity, the contrast is helpful.

"Pundits are always going to overthink and overanalyze the pros and cons of having a former president on the campaign trail, but the truth is, there's little downside. He has unique convening powers to draw a crowd, energize Democrats, make a closing argument, and then it is up to candidates to close the deal."

Obama has already committed to campaign for Ralph Northam, the Democrat running for governor of Virginia. And he is expected to help other candidates running in races in November.

Aides to Obama would not detail how many requests they've received from Democratic candidates hoping to have the former president appear alongside them at campaign events. And they would not detail how many appearances Obama would make in the fall.

"It remains to be seen," one aide said.

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