Is Obama hurting Democrats in elections?

Sep 14, 2011

By using President Obama as a talking point and slogans like "send Washington a message, not a rubber stamp," Republicans are pulling off major wins over Democrats, as seen in Tuesday's New York special election.

Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report chatted about the New York special election and how President Obama's approval rating is affecting Democratic candidates in special and local elections. He'll also chatted about how effective an anti-Obama strategy to attract votes is likely be in the long run.

Related: Republican wins Democratic New York House seat

Hey everyone! Plenty to talk about today so keep your questions rolling in.

I realize the my GOP colleagues will exploit the results saying that it is a referendum on Obama's policies or something along these lines, but I have trouble believing that it is the only reason. Are there others such as the democratic candidate, a poorly run campaign. I would love to have an honest response.

As with any special election, the results are never simple. I think NY09 and NV02 were a mix between national and local dynamics.


Weprin was not a good candidate but Turner was no Scott Brown either. I think these specials have a lot to do with momentum. Once a candidate gets on the defensive, it's extremely hard to come back. That's part of what happened to Weprin.

We have to remember that not every Democratic candidate in 2012 is going to run a good campaign. 

How does Turner's win effect redistricting in NYC and Upstate?

This is a great question, with an uncertain answer.

One of the reasons national Democrats came in late to try and save NY09 was because they were worried about redistricting. 

With NY losing 2 seats, convention wisdom is that each party will lose one. So instead of just losing the Weiner seat to redistricting. Now Dems may have to give up an additional seat in redistricting for a total of 2. Republicans will still give up one. 

The key part of all of this is that Gov. Cuomo is a key player and not exactly a team player for either side. 

How soon before we hear of Democratic political strategists in the House telling their clients to feel free to distance themselves from the White House?

I'm sure there will be that temptation, but the truth is is that it's going to be very difficult for Democratic candidates to distance themself in 2012. Obama will be on the ballot on the airwaves everywhere.

Some Democrats did it effectively in 2010 (see Joe Donnelly's race in Indiana) but it will be much more difficult to do that in a presidential year. 

Democrats' best hope is for the President to regain some popularity and confidence frmo the American people in the direction of the country.

isn't all politics local? Remember when the Democrats won that special election in a previously safe GOP district with another sex scandal resignee? I think pundits read too much into all of these special election results.

All politics is local except when its not. I just don't believe that if the President was more popular that Weprin loses this race. There were local issues but I don't think that undercurrent of dissatisfaction would have been there.

You should read some great coverage from Josh MIller at Roll Call about the Jewish vote in the CD.

You're right that we should be cautious about over-interpreting the race. But it would be very unwise for Democrats just to discount the results to local issues. 

What we saw in Nevada and New York was the Medicare was not the silver bullet issue that Democrats believed it would be. It couldn't pull out the race. 

I begin to think his only chance is a Perry or Bachmann opponent. This economy is not only not going to "turn on a dime" its likely to drift down between now and the election. I don't particularly fear a Romney presidency but do fear the congress that might result from a landslide of votes on the right combined with malaise on the left. How would you feel about the chances of that?

In a midterm, this election starts as a referendum ont he President. With the current economic situation, things don't look good for him. But if Republicans nominate someone like Bachmann, the President will turn it into a choice election. The White House would rather have a popularity contest than a partisan one. 

The referendum vs. choice dynamic is how Harry Reid got reelected. People didn't like him or the job he was doing, but they disliked Sharron Angle more. 

I think it's going to be tough to see a fourth consecutive wave election. Republicans are solidifying their 2010 gains rather than reaching for a lot more. 

It is clear that Israel was the main issue in NY09 although President Obama has been bending backward to cover Likud and its settlements policies. Do you think this can create a backlash against Jewish politicians in other parts of the country?

Again, I think Israel was a big issue, but I don't think the only factor. But anyway...

Not all Jewish communities are the same but it has to be a concern for Democrats for a big state like Florida. If Republicans can run targeted messages and chip into a normally reliable Democratic vote, that could be problematic if the race is close there. 

Is the radical right-wing bizarro candidates from the GOP the best argument for getting people to vote for the Democrats?

Plenty of adjectives there!

I do think Republican primaries (presidential, senatorial, and congressional) matter. We saw that in 2010 in the Senate. Different GOP nominees in Nevada, Delaware, and Colorado and Republicans probably would have won 3 more seats. 

Again, if the economy continues to struggle, the best Democratic strategy is to get voters to focus on Republicans and not the current situation. 

That's why NY09 and NV02 are tough pills to swallow for Democrats because they weren't able to turn the debate onto their terms. 

the real question is; will the American people continue to allow congress to block sound legislation that can substantively and positively impact the U S economy simply for the sake of self fulfilling the prediction that our nations President will be ineffective?!?! Secondly is it shame on congress or shame on the American poeple, who so desperately need health care and jobs and economic stimulus, to allow their elected representatives to act in sush an undermining fashion. And make no mistake, it is the American people who are undermined.

Politics is in everything, for sure. But even if you don't agree with Republicans (which is pretty clear) many of them legitimately disagree with the President's approach to handling the economy. So if they disagree with his policies and don't think it will work, why would they vote for it?

I think talk about Republicans wanting to tank the economy to win is a little silly. They do obviously want to pin the blame on Democrats for the situation. But Democrats are still trying to blame President Bush!

Given that just about every reputable poll shows that approval of Congress is mucher lower than the President's how can they blame him? They would be better served evaluating their own weaknesses. The republicans are too busy catering to the Tea party too realize a large part of the country don't like them.

This is a good point that comes up a lot. 

Even though I want to believe people know about the three branches of government, I think most people see the President as all powerful. 

When times are good, he gets disproportionate credit. When they're bad, he gets more blame. So even though Republicans have the House I think Obama and the Democrats are more at risk of a backlash.

We saw this after 2006 when Republicans took a beating and lost the House and the SEnate. Republicans still got blamed in 2008 because Bush was still the president and being held responsible. 

Also ..We should mention that Obama is beating Romney 49/43. He is still popular among Dems. His problems in NY09 has less to do with economy than with Israel. The question should be: will POTUS be in trouble in Florida?

Well, the public polls in NY09 showed that about 30% of Democrats went for the Republican Turner. That's why I think the Democratic GOTV edge was muted. It looks like they were turning out Turner voters. 

I think that's where yesterday's NV02 results are also worth talking about. It was just NY09 last night. 

Obama got 49% of the vote in NV02 in 2008 and barely lost it to McCain. Last night, the Republican Mark Amodei won the seat by 20 points! 

He was not a stellar candidate. He had a 14-year legislative record, was on-camera supporting Paul Ryan's budget and supported a BILLION dollar tax increase in the legislature. Democrats had a statewide elected official. Amodei cleaned her clock. 

Is there a way to get across to people in America that voting for Republicans is not hurting Obama it is hurting people. In other words, the only people that people are hurting by voting for Republicans out of spite for Obama is themselves. The choice is not simply Obama or the Republicans. How about the option that used to be known as vote for a better democrat? If the problem is that the core of Republican ideology is to divide the nation into an extremely stratified society of a handful of rich and millions of poor, how do people think that voting for a Republican, out of spite for Obama or not, is going to solve that problem? What about this logic is too hard to understand? Spite is as poor foundation on which to structure the future as is the high social stratification skyscraper structure the Republicans plan to build on it.

Ahh...sounds like you've been reading Thomas Frank's What's the matter with Kansas. 

I think that at times, both parties vote out of spite. In 2010 and now, Republicans are upset and voting against Obama and Democrats everywhere. But in 2006 and 2008, a similar anger toward President Bush drove Democrats to the polls. 

I think having a common enemy is a lot more powerful and effective in elections than anything else. Americans seem to get more upset when they're in the minority, and without the White House, Republicans still have that mentality. 

You said: "What we saw in Nevada and New York was the Medicare was not the silver bullet issue that Democrats believed it would be. It couldn't pull out the race. " The problem is that in the intervening months, Obama put the Big 3 on the table. That was political suicide and is in part responsible for these results. Unless he comes back to his senses, it is game over in 2012.

President Obama has  a tough balancing act. 

People also ask if you need the base or the middle. The truth is, you need both. That's how Obama got to the White House and he'll need it again to keep it. 

If Republicans win the White House it won't be because people are in love with Republicans, it will be because they don't like the direction of the country. 

I don't think people expect Obama to solve all the nation's problems in his first midterm. They just want to feel like we're moving in the right direction. Right now, they aren't seeing it. 

By the way, you're the first ones to hear it, but in a few weeks we'll be launching Politics in Stereo. It's going to be a great resource for political news, so stay tuned. 

It seems to me that the economy is hurting Dems more than Repubs, so the strathegy for Republicans is to just do nothing, since it appears they won't blamed for it anyways.

Well, Republicans can try and propose something but it's not going anywhere in the House or SEnate. And they're not going to support something they think is bad policy.

That's why I don't think anything significant is going to get done for the next 14 months. 

For fun, here's another story from Roll Call's Josh Miller where he talks about Weprin saying "you know" more than 40 times in an interview. 

And Kyle Trygstad wrote a good piece about Nevada 2

Don't forget we've got another special election coming up in Oregon 1. David Wu's old seat. Democratic primary and NOvember and special general in January.

And for those people who asked questions on Twitter- I don't think you can drop Arian Foster just yet. 

It's been fun folks! Check out the Rothenberg Political Report if you haven't already. We'd love to add to our community of junkies! Thanks!

If the Republicans don't present an alternative, is there a chance that they may feel the backlash?

Just came in....

Republicans have to avoid becoming the issue. If Democrats successfully paint the election as a referendum on Republicans, than there might be a backlash. But I think last night showed that changing the terms of the debate is going to be harder for Democrats than they think. 

Alright, I'm really out this time. Thanks so much for your questions. 

In This Chat
Nathan Gonzales
Nathan L. Gonzales is deputy editor of The Rothenberg Political Report and a contributing writer for Roll Call. Since 2002, Nathan has worked as an off-air consultant for ABC NEWS on their Election Night Decision Desk. Previously, he worked for and as associate producer for CNN’s “Capital Gang.” His quotes have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today and he has also appeared on MSNBC's Daily Rundown, CNN, and Fox News Channel.

FollowNathan on Twitter.
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