Southern Democrats keep Obama at distance in US mid-terms

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Baton Rouge (United States) (AFP) - Louisianan Dexter Solomon is no political expert, but even he recognizes the pitfalls of President Barack Obama -- deeply unpopular in the South -- campaigning for Democrats struggling against a Republican tide.

"It'd be a two-edge sword," the 46-year-old home repairman, hunched over a plate of waffles and grits at a Baton Rouge diner, said of the unlikely prospect of the commander-in-chief visiting the bayou to campaign with three-term Senator Mary Landrieu.

"She should probably be out there on her own."

Such is the anti-Obama mood in the Deep South that some African-Americans like Solomon suggest the president give their state a miss ahead of the November 4 mid-term elections.

"She doesn't need anybody else," Hyram Copeland, longtime Democratic mayor of the small town of Vidalia and an old Landrieu friend, suggested tactfully when asked whether Obama should campaign with her.

Landrieu, locked in a difficult Louisiana re-election fight and well aware that Obama's approval rating has sunk to the teens among white males in her state, is keeping her distance from the president.

But she depends on black voters as she battles congressman Bill Cassidy who wants her seat and, according to a CBS News/YouGov poll, leads Landrieu by six percentage points.

Senator Mark Pryor of neighboring Arkansas also faces overwhelming Republican momentum, trailing challenger Tom Cotton by four points.

The only other Senate Democrat in the region, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, maintains a lead of about three points in polls.

With Obama's poor approval ratings, African-Americans in these states may be the key voter bloc supporting the nation's first black president against an electorate that may sweep the region's lone remaining Democratic senators out of office.

- At odds over policy -

Fifty years after Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, the clout of black voters has risen substantially.

In 2008 blacks represented roughly half of Landrieu voters. She will no doubt need similar numbers to win again, and blacks could also prove pivotal in North Carolina and Georgia next month.

Landrieu has criticized Obama over an energy policy she says is at odds with the Gulf state's massive oil and gas industry, but Republicans have pegged her as close as they can to the man in the White House.

"People understand, as the president put it, this is a referendum on his policies, every single one," Cassidy told industry contractors at a Baton Rouge luncheon Wednesday.

"Senator Landrieu supports those policies 97 percent of the time," he said.

Landrieu -- whose brother is mayor of New Orleans, a position their legendary father Moon Landrieu held in the 1970s -- no doubt has support from blacks.

Warren Johnson, 53, was less than enthusiastic about Landrieu but sounded downright ornery about her challenger.

"That Cassidy can go to hell," groused Johnson, who nursed a Budweiser as he helped build a neighbor's fence in Donaldsonville, a majority African-American town along the Mississippi River.

The town's economy has slumped, and boarded-up homes and businesses have collapsed like souffles in the Louisiana heat.

"He goes against the grain. Everything Obama puts up he tears down," Johnson said of Cassidy.

- Obama 'abandoned us' -

If Cassidy needs a recruiting tool to draw black votes, he may have found it in Louisiana lawmaker Elbert Guillory, an early Obama supporter who caused a stir last year when he left the Democratic Party to become the first black Republican in the state Senate in 150 years.

"If she (Landrieu) wants to win in Louisiana, Obama is a major anchor around her neck. He would drag her down," Guillory, who hails from impoverished Opelousas where racial tensions remain high, told AFP in an interview.

"I am disappointed that we are stuck in his hip pocket," he said, slamming "destructive" policies like Obamacare and burdensome business regulations that he believes have contributed to rising black unemployment.

Obama has "abandoned us, avoided us, let us languish."

Landrieu, her re-election at stake, replaced her campaign manager with a more seasoned political veteran, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported Wednesday.

But Louisiana's Democratic Party insisted that its "unprecedented" ground game -- a combination of efforts to motivate core voters and reach out to independents and Republicans -- could save the day.

"I think African-Americans are incredibly motivated to vote this fall," said party spokeswoman Kirstin Alvanitakis.

Meanwhile the White House announced one Obama campaign trail stop next week, for the governor of predominantly Democratic Connecticut.

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