President Obama's hope to salvage his second-term agenda by helping Democrats win control of Congress appears to have run into trouble already. Obama's approval ratings shot up after he won re-election in November, but the honeymoon is already showing signs of fizzling. A new Siena College poll found that Obama now has the approval of 56 percent of New Yorkers — still high, but down significantly from his February rating of 66 percent. Could Obama wind up weighing down Democrats, instead of lifting them to victory?
Winning full control of Congress, which would entail holding on to the Senate and picking up a net total of 17 seats in the House, is "a feat that could make the difference between limping to the end of his presidency and going out with a bang," says Alex Isenstadt at Politico. Some Democratic candidates and operatives, however, say that "the message and issues Obama has emphasized since the election are creating a difficult political headwind" in the districts likely to decide which party gets control of the House.
To net 17 seats and flip the chamber, Democrats have to win predominantly on GOP turf, in districts that Mitt Romney won and where Obama and his agenda are unpopular. A number of Democrats made clear in interviews that the more partisan posture Obama has adopted over the past few months — particularly on cultural issues like gun control, and to a lesser extent on immigration and gay marriage — is making an uphill slog that much steeper. [Politico]
Winning back the House was going to be tough even if Obama executed his plans flawlessly, says Michael Barone at Human Events, but the White House is already "flailing." Obama expected Republicans to cave on the sequester budget cuts, but they didn't. And he is quickly losing credibility because his doomsday warnings about the sequester have so far failed to materialize. Indeed, Democrats may have enough trouble keeping the Senate.
There is some chance Republicans will capture the six seats they need for a Senate majority. Seven Democratic incumbents are running in states Mitt Romney carried.
And the retirements of incumbent Democrats in West Virginia, Iowa and, as announced Friday, Michigan may put those seats in play. [Human Events]
Still, Obama's game plan is based on sound logic, according to Robert Schlesinger at U.S. News & World Report. "A chasm has grown between the main stream of the electorate and the base of the GOP," Schlesinger says. That means Obama can hammer the GOP on issues where the party is most out of touch — taxing the rich, for example — and it's a "win-win" for him. "As he works that issues gap, he either ends up with wins or campaign issues."
It seems unlikely Obama will get much through the House this year and next, but to the extent he does I suspect a good chunk of it will owe to his using this policy gap to neutralize the Republicans. You could see that dynamic three times already this year — the tax portion of the "fiscal cliff," the Sandy Hook relief bill, and the Violence Against Women Act. In all three cases a majority of House Republicans voted against the bills but let them come to the floor (and thus let them pass) anyway. [U.S. News]
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