President Obama wants to distance himself from an unpopular Congress, and has made few public appearances with Democratic leaders this year. But Obama's incumbency and years of collaboration with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid leave the two most powerful Democrats little reason to downplay their close coordination. Reid is relatively open about efforts to use Senate floor votes to boost Obama's campaign and those of Democratic Senate hopefuls.
Recent Democratic votes, and related talking points, on bills reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, helping women use the legal system to ensure equal pay with male peers and freezing student loan interest rates all reflect collaboration between Democrats in the White House and Senate.
By contrast, presumed GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell are far more circumspect about their collaboration, despite McConnell's famously candid view on the importance of beating Obama. Running as a Washington outsider and pivoting toward independents, Romney has reason to steer clear of congressional GOP leaders. McConnell's camp supports Romney by not really talking about their relationship.
Still, Hill Republicans and the Romney campaign are wary of what a McConnell aide described as frequent Democratic efforts to hold votes designed to divide the two camps or to simply make them look bad. So, McConnell and Romney talk extensively, just not publicly. For instance, Senate Republican aides acknowledged a May 24 meeting between the men but provided no details.
"There is no shortage of communication," a McConnell spokesman said, while declining to discuss it further.
Still, with Reid eyeing ways to hurt Romney, there is little question McConnell helps him in two big ways.
First, by keeping the campaign up to speed on Senate developments that could affect the campaign. The intense attention of McConnell's staff to Democratic efforts to damage Republicans with female voters wasn't done just to protect Republican Senate candidates.
Second, by minimizing daylight between Senate Republicans and Romney.
As Democrats attacked Romney's recent remarks on Democratic legislation to help local governments hire and retain firefighters and teachers, it was no coincidence that McConnell on essentially echoed Romney.
"It is not the responsibility of the federal government...to send money down to state governments so that state governments don't have to make tough decisions about balancing their budgets," McConnell said. "We tried that with the stimulus. How'd that work out?"
McConnell spokesman John Ashbrook put it this way, "The leader and Governor Romney have a good working relationship. Both share a common desire to get the American economy back on track and they have a shared vision for how to make that happen."