Last week some Kentucky Democrats, such as the governor and state party chairman, trekked to Denver with an eye toward urging Barack Obama to come to Kentucky to campaign this fall.
But it's a delicate situation in Kentucky. While those Democrats think it might be helpful to both Obama and some other candidates to have him stump in the Bluegrass state, others are shying away from being linked to their presidential nominee.
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The reaction from at least one Democratic congressional candidate was essentially: Really, it's OK if he doesn't make it to Kentucky.
Owensboro's state Sen. David Boswell, who is running for the open 2nd District congressional seat, artfully dodged reporters' questions last week about Obama, even as the Illinois senator was on the brink of accepting the party's presidential nomination.
"I'm for David Boswell for the United States Congress," Boswell said when asked repeatedly about how he viewed Obama's candidacy. "We'll talk about that later. I'm for David Boswell."
Later at the same event, Boswell told reporters that he wasn't sure whether he would vote for Nancy Pelosi to remain speaker of the House if he were elected.
"If Nancy Pelosi's leadership leads to projects and programs that are beneficial to the 2nd Congressional District, I would support her," Boswell said. "I think it would be presumptuous for me to say, 'Yeah, I'm going to give blanket support to Nancy Pelosi,' not knowing who might be running against her."
Democratic officials say it's not a surprise that Boswell would try to keep some national party leaders at arm's length when campaigning in the largely rural, conservative 2nd District. "Generally most 2nd District Democrats do not fit in that mold of the national Democratic Party," said LaRue County Judge-Executive Tommy Turner, a Democrat. "That is what David Boswell has to bring out — that he will not be a D.C.-thinking Democrat."
Turner said Boswell, instead, would be better served to bring in well-known Democrats from the region, such as U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler of Versailles or Indiana U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, whom Obama recently passed over for his vice presidential candidate.
Republicans have historically tied Democratic candidates to national figures dating back to 1994, the first election in which the GOP captured the seat after longtime Democratic Rep. William H. Natcher died. Republicans ran ads in which Democratic candidate Joe Prather was compared to then-President Bill Clinton. That helped GOP candidate Ron Lewis win and keep that seat for 14 years.
Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the Republican House whip who campaigned last week in Kentucky for Boswell's opponent, Brett Guthrie, said national Democratic figures such as Obama and Pelosi are perceived in rural districts like the 2nd to be liberal, especially when it comes to taxes.
"One side believes that they can do a better job for your family and your money than you can," Blunt said. "The other side — my side — believes you can do a better job with your money."
But if there's ever an election cycle to break that reputation, it might be this one, said Turner, from LaRue County. He pointed to the federal deficit, which has skyrocketed over the last seven years, as well as to expensive projects of questionable value, such as the famous "bridge to nowhere" advocated by Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska.
Blunt acknowledged that's a weakness for Republicans at the moment. He fielded two questions from GOP voters in Elizabethtown last week about the party losing its grip on the principle of financial restraint.
"That gets blown right off the table when you've got a bridge that doesn't go anywhere," he said, but he quickly added, "But the government takes a lot less of your money than it did a decade ago."
While Boswell might shy away from Obama, another Western Kentucky congressional candidate said that having a presidential candidate personally deliver the party's arguments on spending and proposed tax cuts for middle-income Americans can only help all Kentucky Democrats' causes.
"People need to know that we're important enough for him to come and talk to us, for him to come and energize us," said Heather Ryan, the 1st Congressional District candidate. "That's what we need. And if he doesn't do it, it's certainly not going to help my race."