Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., pulled out a hard-fought primary win over an established Democratic contender Tuesday night, but he did not do it alone: President Obama put more on the line for Bennet than he has for any incumbent this year.
Now, the White House wants Democrats to know it. Organizing for America, the outgrowth of Obama's 2008 campaign, threw thousands of volunteers at Bennet's campaign, while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee offered every measure of support it could.
Late Tuesday, a top OFA official emailed around a list of accomplishments on Bennet's behalf, including hosting more than 80 events since July 9; making 47,000 phone calls; knocking on 14,000 doors; and helping recruit 1,500 volunteers.
Obama himself has skin in the game. He traveled to Colorado for fundraisers with Bennet, joined a town hall meeting late last week to galvanize Democratic voters, and recorded a last-minute robo-call on Bennet's behalf.
Former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who finished behind Bennet, 54 percent to 46 percent, had criticized the White House and the Democratic National Committee for campaigning on Bennet's behalf.
But in truth, the White House needed the win. Democrats have grown quietly nervous that Obama's bully pulpit has not been as effective as that of his predecessors. Even in Pennsylvania, where Obama aided Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter, Democrats turned on the former Republican and picked Rep. Joe Sestak instead.
Then again, Obama remains unpopular throughout the country. And even though Bennet may owe his political life to the president's power among Democratic primary voters, Bennet's team has realized they need to pivot back to the center. That plan does not necessarily include Obama.
Appearing on ABC's "Good Morning America" today, Bennet said he was not sure whether he wants Obama to return to Colorado to campaign with him against Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck in the general election.
"We'll have to see. We'll obviously do what's right for the campaign. He's been a huge help, and I appreciate his endorsement. We'll see what happens between now and November," Bennet said when asked whether he wants to campaign with Obama again. Pressed, he added: "Well, I just won the primary about six minutes ago, so we're going to have to give it some thought."
Republicans are making Bennet's relationship with Obama an issue in the general election. In a statement, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn of Texas said Bennet "championed his party's liberal agenda and out-of-control spending agenda and sought help from President Obama and his party leaders in Washington in order to eke out a victory."
Winning a battle in Colorado is a big moral victory for Obama and his White House. But Bennet's uncertainty over his relationship with Obama shows the White House may have won little more than a Pyrrhic victory.
This article appears in the August 14, 2010 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.