Stuart Rothenberg writes that while President Obama’s approval numbers haven’t yet tanked, the political landscape has changed enough to affect his take on the Senate races:
For the past few years, the public’s focus has been on Republicans’ opposition to the president’s agenda, their desire to shrink (even cripple) government and their conservatism. But the IRS scandal, along with controversies involving the attack in Benghazi and the Justice Department’s collecting of journalists’ telephone records, has change the political narrative.
In real terms, that means the Obama scandals put the White House “on the defensive and should boost enthusiasm on the political right throughout this year…. Given the different natures of midterm electorates, the new political narrative increases the risk for Democratic candidates in red states, where Democrats must win independent and, in many cases, Republican voters to be successful.”
He therefore shifts his ratings:
- West Virginia (Open seat; John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV, a Democrat, is retiring): From tossup/tilt Republican to lean Republican.
- South Dakota (Open seat; Tim Johnson, a Democrat, is retiring): From tossup/tilt Republican to lean Republican.
- Arkansas (Mark Pryor, a Democrat): From tossup/tilt Democratic to pure tossup.
- Louisiana (Mary L. Landrieu, a Democrat): From tossup/tilt Democratic to pure tossup.
- Alaska (Mark Begich, a Democrat): From lean Democratic to tossup/tilt Democratic.
- North Carolina (Kay Hagan, a Democrat): From lean Democratic to tossup/tilt Democratic.
This is precisely why Democrats shouldn’t place too much credence in the president’s poll numbers, and not only because the full impact of the scandals may not yet be felt. Obama is a lame duck. He’s not on the ballot, but he and red-state Democrats’ support for him are liabilities outside safe blue states. The key now for Republicans is to field solid candidates who won’t blow themselves up.
These scandals may or may not be as bad as Watergate, but 2014 could be a lot like 1974. Richard Nixon wasn’t on the ballot; he’d already been forced to leave office. Republicans lost nearly 50 House seats and four Senate seats, ceding control of both houses to the Dems. Before anyone belabors the point that no one thinks Obama will resign, understand that the point of the reference is to remind us that scandal-plagued White Houses are bad for their own party in midterms. The counter-example is 1998 when the Republicans were perceived as going nuts on the Monica Lewinsky scandal and lost five seats in the House and gained none in the Senate. (Not since 1934 did the party out of power in the White House fail to make gains in the midterm of the president’s second term.)
To sum up, Democrats are kidding themselves if they think the scandals aren’t bad news for 2014, but Republicans must stick to the facts and appear judicious in order to capitalize in the midterms.