POLITICS: PennAve

Ahead of midterms, White House opens new political office

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Politics,White House,Brian Hughes,Barack Obama,2014 Elections,PennAve,Elections,David Simas

President Obama on Friday announced the creation of a new White House political operation, reopening an internal unit devoted to fundraising and messaging as Democrats raise concerns about their party's fate in 2014 midterm elections.

Obama named David Simas, a longtime adviser who has led the White House's Obamacare messaging, to be the director of the newly created Office of Political Strategy and Outreach.

In essence, Simas will coordinate strategy for how to best deploy Obama and utilize White House tools in November’s elections. And perhaps most importantly, Simas will be the point man for how Obama can raise money for fellow Democrats.

Patrick Gaspard previously held a similar role — that unit was called the Office of Political Affairs — in the early years of the Obama administration. But the White House has since shut down its political shop, much to the chagrin of Democrats.

“It’s about time,” one senior Democratic strategist told the Washington Examiner of the development. “We can’t have a replay of 2010.”

In the last midterm elections, Republicans took back control of the House, dealing Obama an embarrassing political defeat. Conservatives attributed their showing to public discontent with Obamacare -- an issue that will also likely define the 2014 elections.

Simas will also determine which political activities White House officials are legally allowed to take part in.

Democrats are also hoping to stave off a GOP bid to take over the Senate. More of a long shot, according to political observers, is an attempt by Democrats to win back the House.

Obama has long lamented the gridlocked nature of Washington. But if Democrats lose the upper chamber, his legislative priorities become infinitely more difficult to pass.

Richard Benedetto, a former longtime White House reporter for USA Today who now teaches journalism at American University, said it's unusual for the president to create a new political office in his second term.

“President's like to say that when they're in their second terms they don't have to worry about politics anymore and they can focus on their legacy,” Benedetto said.

“Obama seems like he has put together a pretty political White House and politics seems to play a part in a lot of their decisions,” he added.

In the last two years of his second term, Ronald Reagan’s health was so in decline that he rarely travelled and fundraised on behalf of his fellow Republicans. Bill Clinton was engulfed in the Monica Lewinsky scandal and had a vice president who was running away from him as he closed out his tenure, while President George W. Bush was kept at a distance during his final two years by many Republicans amid the Iraq war.

White House Correspondent Susan Crabtree contributed.

This story was published at 3:40 p.m. and has been updated.

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