The most sought-after endorsement among Democrats running for president, hands down, is that of Barack Obama. (Michelle Obama might come in second.) To the frustration of many, however, the former president has kept his own counsel through the primary, saying only that he would support whoever the party nominates.
But a majority of Democrats don’t believe it. A new Morning Consult poll shows more than half of Democrats believe Obama has announced his choice. They just don’t agree on who it is.
According to the new survey released Thursday, one quarter of Democrats think Obama has endorsed former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, while another quarter believe he’s endorsed his former running mate and vice president, Joe Biden. Both men have tied themselves closely to the Obama administration, but Obama has stayed neutral in the race.
Ten percent of respondents thought Obama had endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders, the race’s current frontrunner, who has had a sometimes uneasy relationship with the former president; according to an account in the Atlantic, Obama aides feared Sanders might actually enter the primaries against the president when he sought reelection in 2012.
Five percent thought he had thrown his support behind Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Biden has tied his campaign to his tenure serving with Obama, who remains an extremely popular figure among Democrats, and whom Biden refers to on the campaign trail as “Barack.” Rivals have pushed back on this tactic, notably in one of the first debates last year when Biden tried to dodge criticism over the Obama administration’s policy on deportation by noting, “I was vice president. I am not the president.”
“Mr. Vice President, you can’t have it both ways,” Sen. Cory Booker retorted. “You invoke President Obama more than anybody in this campaign. You can’t do it when it’s convenient and then dodge it when it’s not.”
Pete Buttigieg’s attempt to associate Biden with an outdated Washington mentality met with this response: “Is he really saying the Obama-Biden administration was a failure? Pete, just say it out loud,” said Biden at an event in New Hampshire earlier this month.
Bloomberg has had a much cooler relationship with Obama, but you would not know that from the ads on which he has spent hundreds of millions running across the country. In the ad “Steady Leadership,” an Obama speech from 2013 praising Bloomberg is the narration. Another ad, titled “Difference,” pairs the two as “a great president and an effective mayor” involved with “leadership that makes a difference."
“Someone at my gym in California asked me why Barack Obama chose Bloomberg over the rest of the field,” David Plouffe, Obama’s former campaign manager and White House adviser, tweeted earlier this month. He said it showed “the power of saturation advertising.”
David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to Obama, told the Wall Street Journal he had “fielded numerous calls in recent days from political operatives and some elected officials asking if Obama had endorsed Bloomberg.”
“It’s jarring to see all these Bloomberg ads that suggest Obama has endorsed him, especially considering how … perfunctory his endorsement of Obama was back in 2012,” wrote Tommy Vietor, a former Obama spokesman.
Bloomberg didn’t endorse Obama in 2008 and announced his support late in the 2012 race, saying Obama would be better than Republican challenger Mitt Romney on climate change. The Bloomberg Opinion editorial in which he announced the endorsement, however, was critical of Obama.
Obama didn’t say anything about the Bloomberg ads tying the two together, but he did speak up earlier this week about an ad a pro-Trump organization was running to use out-of-context Obama quotes to disparage Biden. In the statement condemning the ad, Obama reaffirmed his neutrality in the race.
"President Obama has several friends in this race, including, of course, his own esteemed vice president," said Obama spokesperson Katie Hill in a statement. "He has said he has no plans to endorse in the primary because he believes that in order for Democrats to be successful this fall, voters must choose their nominee."
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