Democrats Hopes of Holding Senate Hinge on Obama

It has been a rough couple of year for Republicans. With Democrats controlling the White House and the Senate, House Republicans haven’t been able to make the type of progress on jobs and the deficit that they’d like. Their myriad jobs bills have gone to die in the Democrat-held Senate, their attempts to improve Obamacare have been systematically ignored, and their fight for a sustainable budget has been thwarted at every turn by a White House that’s not afraid to use the bully pulpit.

But there are signs that voters are growing as fed up as Republican legislators over Democrats’ insufferable obstinacy. For instance, the latest Gallup poll finds that President Obama’s national job approval rating was 42 percent, and was a measly 36 percent in the seven states carried by Mitt Romney that have Democrat senators up for reelection.

And that’s part of the problem – Democrats are playing defense on a playing field slanted sharply in favor of Republicans. The senators defending their seats were first elected in 2008, when President Obama’s historic victory created a wave that washed Democrats into office in the unlikeliest of places. That means Democrats will be forced to defend a whopping 21 seats and will be forced to spend gobs of money in tough-to-win states like Arkansas, North Carolina, Louisiana and Alaska.

But even if the playing field looked better, Obama’s sinking approval rating and nonexistent coattails will create an enormous drag for Democratic hopefuls. RealClearPolitics politics analyst Jay Cost uses an election simulation model largely based on the president’s approval rating. His most recent analysis should be enough to keep Democrat strategists up at night:

This is a grim picture for Senate Democrats, suggesting that the president would have to get his approval above 50 percent by Election Day before they would be favored to hold the chamber. This is also consistent with what we’ve seen in polling, which shows the seven “red state” Democrats in truly severe states of distress, while Democrats in Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire and Colorado are exhibiting surprising weakness.  If these 11 seats are showing similar signs of weakness in November, Democrats will have an extremely difficult time holding the chamber.  At Obama’s current 44 percent approval rating, we’d expect Democrats to lose somewhere between nine and 13 seats.

Granted, presidential approval ratings fluctuate quite a bit and, to a large degree, are out of the hands of Republicans. But when Cost took President Obama’s average approval rating of 48.3 percent he still found that Democrats will most likely lose between seven and nine seats.

As if that weren’t enough, Democrats are on the wrong end of a number of other variables that are likely to decide the mid-term elections. One of them, as Sahil Kapur writes for Talking Points Memo, is history:

Mid-term elections are usually bad for the president’s party, and that holds true for second-term presidents. Since the ratification of White House term limits, five out of the six two-term presidents have lost seats after re-election — an average of 29 in the House and six in the Senate, according to election analyst Charlie Cook.

In 2006, George W. Bush lost 30 seats in the House and six in the Senate. In 1986, Ronald Reagan lost five in the House and eight in the Senate. In 1966, Lyndon Johnson lost 47 seats in the House and 4 in the Senate. In 1958, Dwight Eisenhower lost 48 in the House and 13 in the Senate. In 1950, Harry Truman lost 29 seats in the House and six in the Senate. (The one exception was 1998, when a strong economy and voter backlash against the Republican-led impeachment of Bill Clinton helped Democrats pick up five seats in the House and break even in the Senate.)

Nevertheless, all the polling models and historical trends in the world can’t account for something as simple as having a great candidate with great ideas. Fortunately, the building momentum and sense of optimism is helping Republican’s recruiting efforts.

“I’m very confident in every single place where we have an opportunity for a pickup, we’re going to have a very electable candidate, not just in the primary but in the general as well,” he said. “The atmosphere for us is so good that we’re also stretching the playing field…. So, I think it could be a very good year.”

And that’s something Republicans haven’t been able to say for quite some time