2014’s ‘Clinton Democrats’ crashing and burning

For all the analysis which correctly notes that associating with President Barack Obama is no relief for Democrats running in 2014, particularly those in red states, it is those Democratic politicians running as “Clinton Democrats” who are watching their campaigns implode.

“Self-proclaimed Clinton Democrats are struggling this election cycle, and not even their powerful namesakes may be enough to save them,” The Hill reported on Sunday. “Both Bill and Hillary Clinton have tried to turn on their charms to help centrist Democrats in Kentucky and Arkansas. But as candidates in both states are slipping, help from the party’s preeminent power couple is falling short.”

The Hill noted two of the most prominent examples of Democratic candidates shunning the president in favor of the Clinton label, Kentucky Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes and Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, are rapidly seeing their electoral prospects dwindle.

Even where former President Bill Clinton served as governor for two terms and remains wildly popular, he is getting little traction in the effort to ensure Democrats retain control of that state’s Senate seat and governor’s mansion. “Despite their close ties to the Clintons, their efforts to distance themselves from a deeply unpopular current president may not work,” The Hill reported.

In a way, it would be a mistake to read too much into this dynamic. It is a midterm cycle, after all, and it is only a party’s most partisan voters (primarily the energized supporters of the out-party) who usually turn out in midterm years. What is instructive ahead of 2016 are those Democrats who are enthused to turn out in support of liberal candidates this cycle. It’s not pro-Clinton moderates, but Obama-backing progressives who are most likely to head to the polls despite anti-Democratic headwinds.

With the exception of Pew Research Center, few polling outlets break down respondents by ideology in that granular a fashion, but most who provide cross tabs do poll by ideology and party affiliation. A recent Washington Post/ABC News survey revealed that, among just registered voters, 65 percent of self-described liberal voters were “absolutely certain” to vote in November. Another 14 percent said they “probably” would vote while 15 percent more self-identified liberals said their likelihood to vote was no better than 50-50. Among registered Democrats, 63 percent said they were “certain” to vote while 17 percent conceded they might not show up at the polls at all.

And this is on a national level. In those Appalachian states that voted for Bill Clinton twice but have since grown only more Republican, that trend is likely to be more pronounced.

Republicans, however, remain wary of the Clinton brand, even in this year’s GOP-leaning contests. “I’m not worried about Bill Clinton’s support for Mark Pryor,” Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) recently told ABC News. “I’m worried about Mark Pryor’s support for Barack Obama.”

That is the line that will most hurt Pryor among Republican-leaning and centrist voters in Arkansas, and it is the association that will damage Grimes most in Kentucky. But Obama’s core supporters in these states – single women, students, African-Americans – who are the least likely to forget to vote on November 4 and who likely resent the distance from the president that “Clinton Democrats” are currently trying to seek. If there are lessons to be learned for 2016 in these contests, they are in that dynamic.

This post has been updated since its original publication.