WASHINGTON -- The morning after his "shellacking," President Barack Obama made an unusual but crucial congratulatory phone call, not to a winning Democratic House candidate but rather to a losing one, and one whom few people outside of her home state know.
Why? Because he was watching his back in a place where, on the off chance he faces a primary challenge in 2012, he will need to hold the line.
The president wanted to shower deserved praise on attorney Ann McLane Kuster for her brilliant, well-financed but (just barely) losing race in New Hampshire's 2nd District against former GOP Rep. Charlie Bass. He also urged her to try again, and pledged his support if she did so -- and she quickly agreed.
"He couldn't have been nicer or more supportive," Kuster told The Huffington Post after the election. "He said that I'd run a great race and that he'd be there for me to try it again if I want to, and I do."
All very nice and routine. But there is of course more to the story.
Kuster was the first, most effective and ultimately most important Obama supporter in the 2008 New Hampshire Democratic primary against Hillary Clinton. Obama lost, but Kuster was the top-ranked member of his New Hampshire delegation at the convention.
The legatee of a proud and influential old New Hampshire family (Republicans initially), Kuster built a superb organization in the House race, and both she and the president want to keep it intact -- not only for any (unlikely) primary challenge, but to give the Obama a chance to win the state again the fall of 2012.
To either or both races, Kuster will be indispensible.
The president probably is in better grassroots shape in the three other key 2010 primary states.
In Iowa, the three Democratic House members won reelection, and popular former Gov. Tom Vilsack (now U.S. Secretary of Agriculture) and his wife Christie remain a force. In South Carolina the president has the all-important backing of Rep. Jim Clyburn, a member of the House leadership and the ranking African-American power broker in Congress.
In Nevada -- the fourth of the Early Big Four -- the surprisingly big victory of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is key.
Reid built up an excellent organization in his state, which will now be at the disposal of the president. Even if some Democrats might want to change leaders in the Senate, there is no way the Obama White House would go along.
All politics, especially in primaries, is local -- and Barack needs Harry.