Some Dems won't join Obama in swing through Va.

October 21, 2011 - 4:35 PM

EMPORIA, Va. (AP) — Don't look for Democrats in fiercely contested Virginia legislative elections to join President Barack Obama as he brings his campaign-style American Jobs Act bus tour to three cities in this state.

And don't expect Tim Kaine, the former Democratic National Committee chairman and Virginia's governor two years ago, to join his old ally either.

But one statewide elected official will be with Obama: Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, a GOP vice presidential prospect and a sharp, frequent critic of the Obama White House. He'll join the president at a military base for an event advocating expanded employment opportunities for veterans.

Obama targeted North Carolina and Virginia, both swing states he won in 2008 that are vital to his re-election next year, for his second bus excursion aimed at pressuring Congress to enact pieces of his $447 billion jobs bill.

After Tuesday's event at Greensville County High School in Emporia, the president plans stops at a military base in Hampton on Wednesday, and at a suburban Richmond firehouse before flying back to Washington.

Republicans say Democrats, particularly Senate incumbents trying to preserve a narrow majority in the Nov. 8 elections, are so afraid to embrace the unpopular president that Obama changed his Virginia itinerary to avoid stops near targeted Democrats.

Virginia GOP Chairman Pat Mullins contends the White House changed course because most of those cities are in or near districts where Democratic incumbents battling for political survival are distancing themselves from the unpopular president.

State Democratic Party spokesman Brian Coy scoffed at Mullins' conclusion.

"Really, do you think anybody here has the kind of clout that the president would change his schedule?" Coy said.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said he wasn't aware of the assertion from Virginia Republicans that Obama changed his travel plans due to concerns from state Democratic lawmakers facing re-election.

"As we plan our trips, there are a lot of factors that go into them and schedules are changed for reasons that are more prosaic than that," Carney said.

Kaine was among the first nationally to endorse Obama's long-odds campaign in early 2007. He was also instrumental in helping Obama become the first Democrat to carry Virginia in a presidential race in 44 years, and later agreed to Obama's request to head the Democratic National Committee. In April, Kaine resigned his DNC post to seek the U.S. Senate seat next year after Democratic Sen. Jim Webb chose not to run for a second term.

But Kaine won't accompany Obama because of "a full schedule of events in Northern Virginia, including events for legislative candidates who are up for election in a couple of weeks, which could not be rescheduled," Kaine campaign spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine said. She said Kaine stood with Obama in Richmond in early September, when he began his national tour to build public pressure for his jobs bill.

Advisers to Kaine reject claims that his close ties to Obama could doom his Senate campaign, and point to recent polls to make their case. Statewide polling the past two months by Quinnipiac University has shown the president's disapproval in Virginia topping 50 percent. Yet the same poll has Kaine, the likely Democratic nominee, and Republican front-runner George Allen, a former senator and governor, in a dead heat.

Virginia's House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong has distanced himself from Obama in a struggle to retain his seat against a Republican incumbent in southwest Virginia that he's facing because of redistricting.

Last month, Democratic state Sen. Phil Puckett renounced Obama after his Republican challenger began discrediting him as "Obama's man in southwest Virginia" and tying him to Obama's energy policies which are reviled in coal-mining regions like Puckett's district. Puckett said in a television interview he would not support Obama in 2012.

Obama's Tuesday event was in a reliably Democratic, largely black farming area near the North Carolina border, and all the Democratic state legislators who showed up were members of Virginia's Legislative Black Caucus, none of whom face serious re-election challenges.

Such slights have some black legislators fuming. Del. Lionel Spruill, D-Chesapeake, said he would not support Armstrong if he's elected and again asks the House's Democrats to elect him minority leader.

"These Democrats who have dissed our president — I am not going to forgive and I am not going to forget," Spruill said.

Sen. L. Louise Lucas said Puckett and other Democrats in rural, conservative and mostly white districts have "allowed the Tea-publicans to intimidate them," alluding to the closeness between the GOP and the tea party.

"We're at the point where we are tired of people straddling the fence. Either you are a Democrat or you are not," Lucas said.

Meanwhile, McDonnell announced he would appear with the president at a Wednesday stop in Hampton at a military base for an event advocating expanded employment opportunities for veterans.

The governor, a retired Army colonel, said he is attending because of his interest in veterans issues. His daughter, Jeanine, served in Iraq in 2005-06 with the Army.