President Barack Obama’s allies cringed when the commander-in-chief admitted that his presidency and his policies were on the ballot in November, and a vote for the members of his party was the functional equivalent of a vote in support of him. It was a trap Obama has fallen into on several occasions, and one by which his liberal supporters are regularly frustrated; Obama often seems to forget he is a politician, not a pundit or a political scientist.
Of course, the president’s policies are on the ballot in his second midterm election. That is why so many sixth-year midterms are brutal for the party in control of the White House. Even former senior White House advisor David Axelrod thrust his head into his hands when he heard the president essentially frame the midterm elections, which will determine whether his party retains control of the Senate, as a referendum on his policies. Why? Because if the midterms do become a referendum on Obama rather than incumbent Senate Democrats who are far more popular than the leader of their party, Democrats will be routed on November 4.
CBS News recently took the temperature of the electorate and found that voters, both the registered and likely varieties, heavily favor Republicans to have control of Congress. CBS News also discovered that Republicans are vastly more excited to vote in November than are their Democratic counterparts; 45 percent of self-described GOP voters are excited to vote, compared to just 37 percent of Democrats.
That survey also found that Obama is a factor for nearly 50 percent of registered voters. By nearly a 2-to-1 margin, more voters say that they will be casting a vote in November in order to send a message of opposition to the president.
Those numbers are virtually identical to George W. Bush’s at this point in 2006, when Democrats recaptured control of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
What’s more, that poll found that Republicans are more trusted to do a better job of handling the issues which voters say are their highest priority issues. On terrorism, the economy, and foreign policy, Republicans are more trusted to handle those issues by 53, 49 and 49 percent of voters respectively. Both Republicans and Democrats say that the economy remains their most pressing concern, and only 40 percent of voters trust Democrats to handle that issue more competently than the GOP.
Finally, Obama’s decision to make himself the center of the battle for control of the Senate is likely to backfire because he is deeply unpopular in those states which will determine which party controls the upper chamber.
According to a YouGov survey of all 50 states from September 20 to October 1, Obama’s job approval in the following states with competitive Senate elections is beyond dismal:
Alaska: 31 percent.
Arkansas: 27 percent.
Colorado: 42 percent.
Georgia: 39 percent.
Iowa: 40 percent.
Kansas: 31 percent.
Kentucky: 30 percent.
Louisiana: 34 percent.
Michigan: 43 percent.
Minnesota: 40 percent.
Montana: 31 percent.
North Carolina: 41 percent.
New Hampshire: 36 percent.
South Dakota: 31 percent.
Obviously, Democrats like Arkansas’s Mark Pryor, Colorado’s Mark Udall, North Carolina’s Kay Hagan, and New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen are running well ahead of Obama’s job approval rating. They would like nothing more than to avoid being linked to the head of their party in the minds of their constituents. CBS News’s latest poll suggests that they would have a difficult time creating distance between themselves and the president to begin with, and Obama made it that much more difficult for them when he cast the midterms as a referendum on himself.
Clearly, the president would have been better served to take his lumps, allow the members of his party to distance themselves from him and his policies, and possibly retain control of the Senate as a result. It seems Obama’s ego just could not allow for that implicit rebuke. He would rather, it seems, mine his own harbors than suffer the repudiation of his allies for the sake of political expediency.
When liberal historians look back on this moment, they will see Obama sacrificed a productive final two years in office in order to maintain his own high opinion of himself. They will not be kind in their recollection.