President Obama will not appear on a single ballot this fall, but there's no doubt many voters will make decisions with him in mind. As things are shaping up now, that's not good news for Democrats.
Why? Because most Americans simply don't view their midterm votes as a means of expressing support for Obama. And on balance, his presence in the campaign more closely resembles George W. Bush's on the eve of the 2006 midterms than Bill Clinton's just before the 1998 elections, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows.
Republicans lost their Senate and House majorities in 2006. Democrats made slight gains in 1998. That's what should worry Obama and his party.
About half of Americans (53 percent) say Obama is not a factor in their vote for Congress this year. Among those who say it is, slightly more (24 percent) say their vote will be to oppose Obama than say their vote will be a show of support (20 percent).
The president's numbers fall in between Bush's and Clinton's right before their second midterms, tilting toward the former, as the following chart shows.
That's not the side you want to see Obama fall closer to if you are a congressional Democratic candidate.
Democrats swept to power in 2006, picking up 31 House seats and six Senate seats on Election Day. That was enough to seize the majority in both chambers and render Bush virtually powerless legislatively during his final two years in office.
In general, second midterms tend to be unkind to presidents. Even though Clinton's imprint on the 1998 election looked more favorable compared to Bush in 2006 and Obama now, it wasn't like he made huge gains: Democrats picked up a handful of seats in the House and the Senate stayed the same.
As many have written, the GOP has a built-in turnout advantage in midterm elections, which draw an older, whiter electorate. Older voters and white voters tend to vote Republican.
Part of the demographic challenge Democrats face this fall is underscored in the Post-ABC poll. Roughly half of African Americans and Hispanics (53 and 46 percent) say their vote will be to express support for Obama. But just 10 percent of whites say they will vote in support of Obama, while 33 percent say they will vote in opposition to him.
Exit polling shows African Americans and Hispanic voters accounted for 13 percent and 9 percent of the electorate, respectively, in 2008. Both groups maintained that level in 2012. But in the 2010 midterms, African Americans’ share of the vote dipped to 11 percent, with Hispanics at 8 percent. Census Bureau turnout surveys show a slighter downshift, but also find whites making up a greater share of midterm voters.
In short, the parts of the electorate that will be using their vote as a show of support for the president's agenda were less apt to vote in the latest off-year election. And if that's true again this year, it won't spell good news for Democrats.
In order to keep their fragile Senate majority and have any hope of making gains in the House, Democrats need a number of things to go right for them this fall. And this includes maximizing Obama's positive influence mitigating his drag where possible. But as the election year kicks off, it's clear they have their work cut out for them.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted Jan. 19 to 23 among a random national sample of 1,003 adults reached on conventional and cellular phones. The overall margin of error is 3.5 percentage points.
A farm bill agreement is expected this week.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Bill Clinton engaged in "predatory behavior."
The Arizona Republican Party censured Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for not being conservative enough, in their view.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said Democrats caused the government shutdown.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) said Republicans shouldn't be "taking the bait" on divisive social issues.
It's Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) versus the RNC over NSA surveillance.
Former Virginia lieutenant governor Don Beyer (D) is expected to run for the seat of retiring Rep. James Moran (D-Va.).
"Hillary Clinton supporters get a head start organizing for 2016 Iowa caucuses" -- Philip Rucker, Washington Post
"Does it matter where the GOP decides to hold its 2016 convention?" -- Chris Cillizza, Washington Post
"Kirk's Next Challenge? Re-Election in 2016" -- Meredith Shiner, Roll Call
Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this post