In conversations Wednesday with more than a dozen Democratic strategists deeply involved in this campaign — a few who were willing to speak on the record, a majority who were not — there was a widespread pessimism about the party’s chances Nov. 4. “Challenging,” acknowledged Ali Lapp, executive director of the House Majority PAC, a super PAC spending millions on ads to promote House Democrats.   “It’s a very challenging environment,” agreed Penny Lee, a Democratic lobbyist and longtime political aide to former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. “Unsettled,” offered Democratic pollster Fred Yang. “The trends are not good,” said Steve Rosenthal, the veteran Democratic and labor strategist.

There were lots (and lots) of reasons given for the difficulties facing Democrats. The Senate map.  The historic trends of second term, midterm elections — aka the “six-year itch.”  Voter apathy. But the one factor that virtually every person I talked to cited as the biggest reason for the party’s current predicament was President Obama.

“This off-year election has become almost entirely a referendum on the president,” said one Democratic consultant involved in a number of closely-fought congressional races. “It’s not just anger at [the Affordable Care Act].  He has become, in my opinion wrongly, the symbol of dysfunction in Washington.  That has led to a demoralized Democratic base, energized Republicans and those in the middle have an easy way of venting their frustration, and that is to punish the president’s party.”