Obama for Tom Wolf in Philly: Why the President’s here when the race isn’t close

Wolf Obama (2)

The governor’s race looks pretty much over. Though polls show a tightening margin over the last several weeks, Tom Wolf still leads Tom Corbett by at least 13 percentage points (52 percent to 39 percent with 8 percent unsure). And now, last minute, Wolf will be getting Barack Obama to say nice things about him.

The president is coming to Temple’s Liacouras Center on Sunday afternoon, two days before the election. Why does Obama come here, stumping for a pretty much decided race when so many other close races are going on? And will his presence help or hurt?

Obama, as we know, has cut a divisive figure these last six years. A Gallup poll has actually shown that he’s on pace to be the most polarizing president in U.S. history. Because of this, he’s having a hard time helping fellow Democrats in their home races.

“Obama can’t campaign in virtually any of the hot Senate races, because they’re taking place mostly in red states where Obama is very unpopular,” says Dick Polman, a political columnist for Newsworks and a writer in residence at Penn, via email. “He can’t even campaign in Senate blue states – like Iowa and Colorado – because he might imperil the Democratic candidates who are fighting for their lives.

“So he comes to Philadelphia because it’s a safe haven.”

In 2012, even after Obama had lost much of his luster across the country (winning 51.1 percent of the popular vote), he won 85 percent of the vote in Philadelphia. And in a few areas here, he nabbed 99 percent.

Jeff Sheridan, a spokesperson for the Wolf campaign, says getting Obama at this point in the race was mainly a matter of scheduling. A couple of other dates hadn’t worked out, and this time it did. Sheridan says the campaign right now is mainly trying to mobilize voter turnout and expects Obama inspire people to vote.

“I think it really goes a long way to just energize our support in the city of Philly,” he says.

In a political climate where Obama is often kryptonite, Philadelphia is providing a rare win-win for the Democratic party: Wolf might be able to coax a few more people to vote for him in a heavily Democratic, diverse county, and Obama can feel like he’s not actually hurting a candidate’s chances.

“Yeah, the polls say Wolf probably has it in the bag, but the numbers have been tightening because Republicans have been coming home to Corbett,” Polman says. “So just to be on the safe side, Obama comes here to help – without risking political blowback.”   

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