For a president once mocked by his critics as little more than a celebrity, it was the ultimate indignity: Scores of people left a packed campaign rally Sunday before President Obama finished speaking.
It wasn't immediately clear why, according to Reuters, "a steady stream of people" departed the event held for Maryland's Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Anthony Brown. Reporters guessed they just wanted a photo of the president, or they wanted to beat the inevitable traffic jam caused by the 8,000 some-odd people who stayed. Perhaps those who departed a rally held just outside the Beltway suddenly realized they had heard Obama's stump speech a dozen times before.
Whatever the reason, the conjured image was a sad one for the president, whose approval rating is stuck in the low 40s and who is already a surrogate non grata for many of his party's candidates. At a moment when a popular president would be crisscrossing the country in the midterm campaign's final stretch, Obama's schedule this week is actually rather light. He's casting an early vote in Chicago on Monday ahead of an afternoon fundraiser, and after that the only event on his public calendar for the rest of the week is another fundraiser in Washington.
The White House will undoubtedly point out that Obama is keeping his schedule clear so he can oversee the government's Ebola response, the war against the Islamic State, and the myriad other crises that seem to keep popping up. But the plain truth is that there isn't much for Obama to do on the public stage right now. Democrats still want his money, although even among donors there were signs of fatigue over the summer. But the party doesn't have much use for his oratory anymore, and the weeks before an election is not the time for major new policy pronouncements. What must be even more frustrating for Obama is that his fading star can't simply be explained as voters wanting something new; after all, the Clintons remain as in-demand as ever.
Obama's campaign skills haven't diminished, and thousands of people still pack the halls and cheer his name. But at the moment, he's out of style. And if any Democrats were having second thoughts about passing up a presidential appearance, Sunday's headlines from Maryland probably cleared them up quick.