In 2014, Barack Obama said he was on the ballot; Democrats wished he hadn't.
In 2016, Barack Obama says he's on the ballot, and Democrats wish like hell that he actually was.
On Wednesday, the president said for the second time in two weeks that his legacy is "on the ballot" this year, telling radio host Steve Harvey that voters are voting for or against him, whether they know it or not.
“The notion somehow that, ‘Well, you know, I’m not as inspired because Barack and Michelle, they’re not on the ballot this time and, you know, maybe we kinda take it easy’ — my legacy’s on the ballot," Obama said, repeating the phrase twice. He also said back on Sept. 17: "My name may not be on the ballot, but our progress is on the ballot."
The funny thing is that Obama used very much the same formulation back in 2014, and it was seen as a big gaffe — one that played directly into Republicans' hands.
"Make no mistake: These policies are on the ballot," he said in early October 2014. "Every single one of them."
Democrats privately fretted about the comment, wondering why the president would say it at a time when so many of them were trying to establish their independence from him. Republicans were knocking at the door of a total takeover from Congress, and red-state Democrats like Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) didn't need people to see their names on the ballot and think "Obama." Neither did open-seat candidates like Michelle Nunn in Georgia or challengers like Alison Lundergan Grimes, who was trying to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
At the time, former top Obama adviser David Axelrod called it a "mistake." Democrats privately agreed. And Republicans gleefully featured the quote in campaign ads, launching several of them within 24 hours.
Fast forward to today, and Obama is significantly more popular. His approval rating has jumped over 50 percent in most polls and has gone as high as 58 percent in a Washington Post-ABC News poll this month.
Compare 2014 with today on the chart below. While 2014 was his worst year as president, he's in the midst of only his third extended period above 50 percent approval. (All three straddled a presidential campaign.)
Obama also happens to be significantly more popular than the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, whom only about 4 in 10 Americans like, according to recent polls. Republicans have taken to attaching Democrats to her in their campaign ads and basically leaving Obama out of it.
It's almost enough to make Democrats wish Obama's name were indeed subbed in for Clinton's on November's ballot.
The president has long projected frustration over the fact that Congress hasn't gone along with what he views as common-sense policies on things like gun control — and that Republicans and the American public haven't judged policies like the Affordable Care Act as clear successes. He's long been unpopular and has not quite known why or thought that it was a fair representation of his performance.
But after one botched attempt to attach himself to the ballot in 2014, he's clearly happy he can say the same thing in 2016 and have it be a positive for his party. And it sounds like he's not done saying it.