But that optimism assumes that Democratic support among white working-class voters already has hit rock bottom. At the end of the year, Obama’s national approval with them dipped to 27 percent—nine points lower than after the 2012 presidential election. Republicans are already looking at contesting many of these traditionally Democratic Great Lakes states in the presidential election, especially if a candidate like Scott Walker emerged as the nominee.
Meanwhile, there’s no guarantee that Hillary Clinton will offer much of an improvement over Obama in wooing working-class voters back to the Democratic fold. Last year, the Clintons spent plenty of political capital appealing to their old supporters in last year’s key Senate races in Kentucky and Arkansas. Not only did Democrats Alison Lundergan Grimes and Mark Pryor get crushed by their GOP opponents, they performed as poorly among blue-collar voters as President Obama. Perhaps white voters in the Midwest will act differently than their Southern counterparts, but the 2010 results will give them pause.
Part of the challenge for Democratic candidates in the last election was their resistance to split more aggressively from an unpopular president, even when it was in their self-interest. (Paging Lundergan Grimes.) In 2016, with the presidential campaign occurring at the same time as these pivotal Senate races, that tendency to be a team player will be even greater—especially since the Senate battlegrounds are in more favorable territory.
But sounding more like an independent operator is an invaluable political asset—one that will be crucial for Democrats to have any hope of winning back disaffected voters alienated with the party.