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Should Democrats Worry About Obama Disconnect in 2010?

Don’t be surprised if you soon hear Democrats asserting that midterm elections are referendums on incumbent presidents and that as long as President Barack Obama’s numbers remain strong and the GOP brand remains weak, Democratic candidates running for high office next year have nothing to worry about.

In fact, some wise Democrats are concerned about a possible disconnect between the president’s popularity and voters’ views of Democratic candidates next year, especially for incumbents.

Their fear is that even if Obama remains personally popular, voters will not look kindly on their party’s candidates for Congress and governor if the economy remains weak and the public mood is sour and frightened. And even if the economy is showing signs of life, public concern over the deficit, taxes or cultural issues could drive turnout among voters wanting — you guessed it — change.

The concern is well-founded, and you don’t have to believe me to take this danger seriously.

Here is what noted Democratic pollster/strategist Stanley Greenberg wrote in his article “The Revolt Against Politics” in the Nov. 21, 1994, issue of “The Polling Report,” just two years into a Democratic president’s first term and only weeks after a midterm election in which the GOP gained more than 50 House seats and won control of the House for the first time since the 1950s:

“Voters this year voted against Democratic-dominated national politics that seemed corrupt, divisive and slow to address the needs of ordinary citizens. In that, they were voting their disappointment with the spectacle of a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress promising change, but seemingly unable to produce it. Many voted to change a government that spends too much and accomplishes too little, and to shift the public discourse away from big government solutions.”

Midterm elections are about anger, so if there isn’t any, incumbents of both parties do just fine. But if there is some — watch out. Blaming the previous administration works for six months or a year, but after that, it’s a much tougher sell.

In focus groups in Macomb County, Mich., and Riverside, Calif., Greenberg wrote in his article, “one hears an electorate acutely conscious that the Democrats came to power promising change, but produced only turmoil.”

It’s not hard to imagine some voters feeling that very same way next fall, especially if the Obama administration continues to spread itself so thin by dealing with an endless number of problems, yet solving none.

As for the issue of corruption that Greenberg referred to in 1994, it, too, could be a problem for Democrats next year.

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