By Abdon Pallasch
Sun-Times Political Writer
CHICAGO–In his State of the Union speech Wednesday night, President Obama will acknowledge his party’s loss of a Senate seat in Massachusetts and attribute the loss to distrust of Washington in general — not Democrats, Obama senior advisor Dave Axelrod said Monday.
“One of the things you saw expressed in Massachusetts last weekend — frankly, it’s been expressed in a series of elections including our own — is that there’s a big gulf of trust between the American people and leadership in Washington,” Axelrod said. “…A sense that perhaps people aren’t listening, that voices of everyday people are being drowned out too often by special interests. This has been a great concern of the president throughout his career. He’ll address that as well.”
Republicans have proclaimed the decisive victory of Republican Scott Brown over Democrat Martha Coakley as evidence that the American people are rejecting President Obama’s agenda in general and his health care plan in particular.
But Axelrod urged hundreds of supporters of the Misericordia Home on Chicago’s North Side not to interpret the results that way.
“They were voting to send a message to Washington generally,” Axelrod said. “One of the messages was that this bitter, withering partisanship that we’ve seen is unhealthy for the country. It would be wrong for my Republican friends in Washington — and, yes I have Republican friends in Washington…”
The crowd laughed.
“…They might not admit it.” Axelrod turned to Sen. Dick Durbin and said, “Dick does as well … maybe fewer.” The crowd again laughed.
“They need to take a hard look at these results too, because this was not a partisan vote. This was a vote for change. To ignore that and to step on the gas and suggest that this is a vote for obstructionism and partisanship at a time when we need cooperation would be a big mistake.”
Health care reform will be “part of the mix” to heal what ails the country Axelrod said, even if it not the focus of Wednesday night’s speech.
Axelrod’s 26-year-old special-needs daughter Lauren is a resident at Misericordia.
“The president knew that seven presidents have tried to deal with the issue and seven presidents have failed … but he pursued because he understood how significant it was,” Axelrod said. “The long, protracted debate process itself was distasteful to people. The propaganda wars back and fourth left people with some sense of doubt as to what was actually in this legislation. The fundamental principals behind it are that if you have a pre-existing condition — many of the people in this room appreciate what that means — you ought to be able to get coverage. If you have a small business, you ought to be able to get coverage. If you get seriously ill, you ought not be thrown off your insurance as too often happens today.”
At one point during the health care debate, Axelrod talked with Obama about whether the fight was worth it and Obama told Axelrod, ” ‘I was just in Green Bay and I met a woman who was 36 years old, who has ovarian cancer. She has insurance and she still has tens of thousands of dollars in medical expenses she can’t pay for. And she is frightened beyond words that she is going to die and leave her family with debt.’ So he patted me on the shoulder and said. ‘You know, it’s worth the fight.’ So I was right and he was right.”
Axelrod refused to be drawn into the spirited primary election fights that will culminate Feb 2.
“So many of my friends are running — sometimes against each other — so it’s handy to be out of town for a while,” he said.
As soon as the primary elections are over, Axelrod and Obama will be back to campaign for Democratic candidates, he said.
Axelrod refused to comment on the devastating advertisement State Comptroller Dan Hynes is running against Gov. Quinn quoting former Mayor Harold Washington criticizing Quinn. Axelrod was a master campaign ad maker. But with Quinn standing off to his side Monday morning, Axelrod declined to weigh in.
Kill the rumors that chief of staff Rahm Emanuel will be running for mayor, Axelrod, said: “No, I think Mayor Daley’s going to run for mayor next year. These things get a little bit of life in Washington and they take on a life. Rahm has a pretty good job now in a responsible position. He doesn’t come in every morning saying, ‘I wanna run for something.’ He comes in every morning tackling the problems that face this country, so I’d suggest everybody calm down on that.”