The 2010 midterms will be the White Houses best opportunity yet to prove that Obamas appeal is transferable to other candidates without the president on the ballot.
Even now, some Democratic incumbents arent buying what the president is selling and dont believe his agenda is politically in-tune with their districts. Three dozen Democrats just voted against the health care bill that Obama will likely tout as the hallmark of his presidency. And at least a dozen or so Democrats have voted against other key legislation put forth by the partys leadership and the White House.
Every Member wants to be thought of as independent and thoughtful, and with Obama touting his agenda next year, some Democratic incumbents will have to choose their opportunities to show their independence and hope its enough for the voters in the district.
Two years ago, Rep. Bobby Bright (Ala.), then the mayor of Montgomery, wouldnt even admit who he was supporting in the presidential election, and now hes one of 48 Democrats who represent districts that McCain won. Republican challengers in those districts are anxious for a national referendum on Obama and the White House agenda.
Democrats in their first and second terms will have to learn how to run against national trends in the vein of Reps. Chet Edwards (D-Texas) and Jim Matheson (D-Utah) both of whom have held on to win in their overwhelmingly conservative districts despite being targeted for defeat.
Some strategists believe the national White House strategy and local Member strategy are complimentary. But one Democratic source cautioned against the White House being too ivory tower with their plan.
Other Democratic strategists are on board, and some are resigned to the fact that next years elections will be a referendum on Obama regardless of whether they want it to be.
There is a degree to which we all live under the Democratic brand as defined by President Obama and 2009 taught us that the smartest political move is to accept, if not embrace, that fact, Democratic Governors Association Executive Director Nathan Daschle explained.
Ultimately, [the 2010 elections] will be about what weve been able to do, said former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Executive Director John Lapp, who is now a media consultant and agrees with Axelrods strategy.
Republicans left a horrible mess, Lapp explained. Together, weve either been able to work through problems or we havent.
Some Democrats believe that a national election focused on health care reform and an economy on the mend bodes well for their party and that the president will be the best salesman for his own policies in order to motivate the Democratic base.
By next November, Democrats will have made progress addressing the two biggest challenges America faces: the economy and health care, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Communications Director Eric Schultz predicted.
But there is obviously no guarantee that the president, party or the agenda will be popular with voters, and its unclear if the White House can even succeed in creating a national election in their favor, even if they wanted to.
Obama needs to remain popular for it to be successful, according to one Democratic strategist.
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were a significant factor in boosting Bushs standing and nationalizing the subsequent 2002 elections. Bushs 67 percent job approval rating (according to an Oct. 30, 2002, to Nov. 3, 2002, ABC News/Washington Post poll) and a positive round of redistricting contributed to Republican gains in the House. President Obama will enter 2010 with a job approval rating at least 10 points lower and lacking the redistricting component.
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