Even though the presidency won't be on a ballot in November, you never know what role the occupant of the White House -- or a former occupant -- might play in the mid-term voting.
With Barack Obama's poll numbers sagging, there's already talk that Democratic candidates in competitive races would prefer not
to welcome the president into their states. At this point, it seems more likely that he'll serve as his party's fundraiser-in-chief at events for the well-heeled faithful.
Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, has been working on a memoir (Decision Points
) since leaving office, with the publisher wanting a September launch. But the other day, according to the Financial Times, unnamed "friends" said the former president "resisted plans by the publisher"
for a potentially more profitable early fall release because he "did not want to insert himself into the midterm election campaign, where Republicans are expected to make big gains."
Publication date is now set for Nov. 9, exactly a week after Election Day. The first television interview for the budding author is scheduled for the day before, meaning he'll be pretty much under wraps throughout the campaign season.
Even if Bush and Obama are on the equivalent of the sidelines, voters can still expect a presidential presence of one kind or another come September and October. Democratic circles are already spinning that Bill Clinton will take to the hustings on behalf of individual candidates and with the larger purpose of energizing the party's in-need-of-excitement base.
A recent Gallup Poll showed Clinton's favorability rating at 61 percent (compared to Obama's 52 percent and Bush's 45 percent), and the former Democratic president has a personal motive to be visible.
Clinton will be campaigning to continue his recovery, if not restoration, from the sharp criticism he received in 2008 for statements he made supporting Hillary Clinton's run for the Democratic presidential nomination. (Two years ago, Gallup measured his favorability at just 50 percent.) Moreover, like every ex-president, he's mindful of his own historical legacy and how he can most positively influence it.
But the wildcard for 2010 might well come from the observance of a presidential anniversary rather than any former leader's participation. November marks the 50th anniversary since the election of John F. Kennedy, and that occasion promises to be noted in myriad ways. Academic conferences, notably ones sponsored by Harvard and Notre Dame, are already scheduled, and several books are timed to appear in the fall. One is titled Portrait of Camelot, and it includes a narrative by Richard Reeves, who previously wrote President Kennedy: Profile of Power (1993), with pictures by Cecil Stoughton, the first official White House photographer. In addition, the news media, which thrive on anniversaries, will certainly not let the public forget either the 1960 election or Camelot.
What direct political impact the attention focused on JFK will have is anyone's guess, and the precise influence impossible to gauge. In that respect, all you have to do is look back to the historic 1994 mid-term elections, complete with the Republican takeover of the House and Senate.
The weekend before voters went to the polls 16 years ago, Ronald Reagan released a handwritten letter that revealed he'd been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Near the end of his poignant note, which dominated print and broadcast coverage, he wrote:
"When the Lord calls me home, whenever that may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future. I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead."
The extent to which Reagan's painful disclosure -- with its sunny outlook amid the approaching darkness -- evoked sympathy and helped the Republican cause was never measured. The revelation came as breaking news right before Election Day.
The timing, though, remains a curiosity for political analysts to ponder. Could the consequential 1994 results have been, at least in part, the Gipper's final victory?
Whether 2010 will produce its own version of a presidential surprise bears watching, as this campaign season with its difficult-to-chart unpredictability unfolds.