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Good News Is Hard to Find for Democrats as Spring Begins

The problem for Democrats, of course, is that they ran against the “culture of corruption” just a couple of cycles ago, so the admonishment of Rangel, combined with questions about other Democratic Members, scandals surrounding two consecutive Democratic governors of New York and the upcoming trial of a former Democratic governor of Illinois, create an impression that Democrats could do without.

Fairly or not, Democratic control of both chambers of Congress during a period of voter disenchantment enhances the chance that voters will punish Democrats for any shortcoming, legislative or ethical.

Finally, there is the president, whose job approval and favorable numbers have plummeted since his election.

Of course President Barack Obama’s 75 percent job approval numbers in December 2008 didn’t measure anything but Americans’ hope for success. But it’s the rise in his disapproval ratings from the mid-20s in early March 2009 to the mid-40s now that ought to be troubling for Democratic strategists.

Historical survey data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research show that the job approval of each of the last eight presidents has fallen between January and October of midterm election years (based on the average from all polls conducted during those months), and if that trend continues, it obviously creates additional problems for Democratic candidates.

Even more troubling for Democratic strategists is the drastic change in the attitude of independents, from virtually mirroring the sentiments of Democrats during the last two election cycles to now more closely resembling the views of Republicans (on both mood and issues).

Unfortunately for Democrats, passing legislation between now and November isn’t likely to change the political landscape nationally, though it could close the enthusiasm gap by energizing Democratic voters who have been disappointed by the Obama administration’s performance.

Republicans are not likely to change their views of the president and the Congress before the midterms, and the opinions (and political behavior) of independents and weak Democrats are much more likely to be tied to their perceptions of the economy and the job market than to whether Congress passes a particular piece of legislation.

Still, Democratic leaders from the White House to Congress have to do anything they can to alter the trajectory of the 2010 elections, and with eight months to go until Election Day, almost anything is possible. But the one thing Obama and Congressional Democrats need is some good news.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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