It’s crunch time for Democrats in this year’s midterm elections, and the majority party finds itself in a major vise – likely to lose big in the US House of Representatives and lucky to keep their slim control of the US Senate.
Finishing up his last-minute campaigning Sunday, his voice harsh from so many rallies, President Obama feels the pressure too. His name may not be on the ballot, but his agenda and his reputation surely are.
Some analysts are saying he’ll be in a better position when resurgent Republicans (even less popular than Democrats) actually have to legislate rather than just say “No.” But it always hurts to lose.
As David Jackson at USA Today points out, Obama is in good company. Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton all experienced a “conservative wave” election as president. While Roosevelt, Truman, and Clinton held on to the White House two years later (and even strengthened their position), congressional midterm losses helped end the presidencies of Johnson and Carter.
A weekend poll by CNN/Opinion Research Corporation shows Republicans with an even greater advantage in congressional races than they had back in 1994, when Newt Gingrich led his party to victory – leading 10 percent in a generic ballot (52-42 percent) compared with 7 percent in ’94.
Independents going Republican
Even more dispiriting for Democrats: Fifty-five percent of independents say they'll vote for a Republican, with just 32 percent saying they'll go for the Democrat in their congressional district. That’s in line with the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, which also shows independents – who accounted for a major portion of Obama’s winning majority in 2008 – trending Republican.
“One nonpartisan prognosticator, Stuart Rothenberg, said Friday he thought the Republicans could pick up as many as 70 House seats – something no party has achieved since 1948” when Truman was president, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday. That’s far more than the 39 new seats the GOP needs to take control of the House.
One Republican campaign tactic has been to make the election all about Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate majority leader Harry Reid. (So far, the GOP is not referring to them as the “Axis of Evil,” but they might as well, given the harshness of the campaign rhetoric.) The ploy seems to be working.
The CNN poll shows Obama’s favorable rating at just 48 percent, down from 53 percent in September and 57 percent in April. Ms. Pelosi’s is down to just 26 percent. In Nevada, several polls have Republican challenger and tea party favorite Sharron Angle expanding her slim lead over four-term incumbent Reid to four percentage points.
Obama has to reunite his party
Even within his own party, Obama will have to rebuild personal support after Tuesday’s elections.
Nearly half of all Democrats (47 percent) say he needs to be challenged in 2012, according to an Associated Press-Knowledge Networks Poll. (True, that’s mostly those who supported Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination in 2008, but still.)
Looking back at his nearly two years in office, much of that intraparty grumbling comes from the liberal wing upset that he didn’t fight harder for some issues – a public option on health care, for example.
But with a newly strengthened opposition to push against, Democratic troops are more likely to unify and rally to Obama’s support.
"Democrats currently disappointed with Obama will likely be less disappointed if he spends the next two years fighting a GOP Congress,” University of Wisconsin political scientist Charles Franklin told the Associated Press.
Not quite as good as having a clear congressional majority. But for Obama, it’ll have to do.