Is Obama Killing His Senators?

Outside the beltway, polling indicates a massacre of Senate Democrats is in the offing in the 2012 elections. Currently, Rasmussen’s polls have Republicans leading Democrats for eight Senate seats now held by Democrats. Bill Nelson is six behind Connie Mack in Florida; Claire McCaskill is 10 behind Sarah Steelman in Missouri; John Tester is three behind Denny Rehberg in Montana; Sherrod Brown is four behind Josh Mandel in Ohio. And for open seats, George Allen is three up on Tim Kaine in Virginia; Jon Bruning is 20 ahead of Bob Kerrey in Nebraska; Tommy Thompson is 15 ahead in Wisconsin; and either Rick Berg or Duane Sand will undoubtedly win in North Dakota. And the races in New Mexico and Michigan show the Republican candidate less than four behind. (The GOP might lose Massachusetts and Maine, but a massive wipeout of Democrats is coming.)

Why? Obviously, the shift in party identification has a lot to do with it. While Washington insiders are chortling about Obama’s likely re-election, those who are paying attention know that there has been an eight-point party identification shift from Democrat to Republican, two points of which took place after the 2010 elections. Not only is this shift going to doom Obama’s chances, but it will also engulf Democratic candidates up and down the line.

But could Obama be slaying his own candidates? Ever since the GOP victory of 2010, Obama has emulated Harry Truman in attacking the “do-nothing Congress” — a theme that underscored his 1948 re-election. But has he noticed that half of Congress is Democratic? In an effort to avoid appearing partisan, the president attacked “Congress” without distinguishing the House from the Senate or the members of his own party from the opposition.

In a reprise of 2008, he is trying to run against the “culture” in Washington and the “gridlock” in our system. But while he hasn’t done much damage to Republicans seeking election, he has inflicted massive harm on his own party. Democratic support for Democratic senators is incredibly low, and independent backing for their candidacies is virtually nonexistent.

Yet Obama’s dissing of his own candidates has not elicited a murmur of protest from his party. As he excoriates Congress for not passing his “jobs” bill and complains about the toxic atmosphere in which he is forced to dwell, he is ruining his own party’s chances. Nothing else can explain fully the drop in the support Obama voters give the Democratic Senate candidates. Sure Obama will lose Florida and probably Missouri as well, but not by enough to have McCaskill at 41 percent of the vote and Nelson at 36 percent. Even in Michigan, my own polls have Debbie Stabenow only at 46 percent (trailed by Pete Hoekstra at 42 percent, in a state Obama must carry and in which he is favored.)

In Obama’s re-election strategy, it appears that he plans very little defense of his own abysmal record — understandably — and he will run an ad hominem campaign against Romney (as soon as Santorum stops his ad hominem attacks). Whether this will re-elect the president is doubtful, but it certainly won’t give Democrats running for the Senate any place to stand.

His party should realize just how ineffective ad hominem negatives were in 2010. No Democratic congressman ran on Obama’s record — or even their own — as each tried to savage his particular opponent. It was as if they were saying, “Vote against Obama. I understand, but you can’t possibly vote for this Republican who is opposing me.” It didn’t work, and it won’t if that is the only platform Obama gives his candidates.

Two years ago, it seemed that Congressman Paul Ryan’s, R-Wis., Medicare reforms would give Democrats a place to stand, but Ryan’s new-found moderation, masquerading as a deal with Ron Wyden, D-Ore., undercuts that premise.

Now the Democrats stand accused by their own president of doing nothing, fostering a toxic atmosphere and promoting gridlock — a great way to run for re-election.

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