Stick to Health Care, Mr. President

President Obama’s concerns about New York politics are understandable. If his fellow Democrats lose gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey in the fall, as seems possible, Mr. Obama’s party will be on the defensive just in time for two key campaigns for statewide office in New York—the looming contests for governor and U.S. senator. What’s more, a reeling Democratic Party might lose control of the State Senate on the eve of re-districting, which would foil the party’s chances of drawing favorable lines for the next decade.

That said, the president made a blunder by making it known, privately and then through the media, that he’d rather not see David Paterson run for governor next year. The president leaves Mr. Paterson with no way to save face, and as any shrewd politician or diplomat knows, it’s important to give an antagonist a dignified exit strategy. If the governor does decide to pull out of the race, the decision, it will seem, was made not in the statehouse, but in the White House.

That’s bad politics, even if the result winds up helping Mr. Obama. Mr. Paterson’s performance since taking over from Eliot Spitzer has been far from sterling, and there is a strong argument to be made that he should allow a better candidate—like Attorney General Andrew Cuomo—to face what figures to be a strong Republican challenge next year. Still, that’s a decision that Mr. Paterson, not Mr. Obama, should make.

One could hardly blame the governor if he decides to run in spite of pressure from the White House. All politics is personal, and Mr. Paterson has every reason to feel betrayed and offended by the White House. Mr. Obama’s move could easily backfire, leading to a bitter gubernatorial primary and a divided primary. That could open the door for Republican victories in the governor’s race as well as in the Senate campaign, where a weak incumbent, Kirsten Gillibrand, is likely to face a tough Republican opponent, possibly Long Island Congressman Peter King.

Mr. Obama’s formidable energy would be better spent on health care and Afghanistan. Let New York’s voters make up their own minds.

Stick to Health Care, Mr. President