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Barack Obama’s 2014 campaign footprint is expected in some ways to mirror the last president’s second midterm slump — heavy on fundraising, light on swing-state campaigning.
In 2006, President George W. Bush served as a financial juggernaut for his party, but his public rallies in the final stretch were confined to friendly GOP territory. Campaigns in competitive contests had to weigh the benefit of a fundraising and turnout boost against a potential hit in the polls for appearing with an unpopular president.
As Democrats look this cycle to hold their Senate majority and pick up seats in the House, the party is staring down an unpredictable political atmosphere with a president whose job approval starts 2014 underwater. But even as Republicans tether Democrats to Obama on policy, the president remains a vital fundraising asset for the party’s effort to hold its ground in the midterm elections.
“Obama has an opportunity to be very effective in the midterms without necessarily being the midterm poster child,” said Terry Holt, a consultant and former Bush campaign spokesman. “His primary role will be fundraiser in chief. How you do that while staying out of the story is really the question.”
In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted in December 2005, Bush’s approval was underwater by 16 points. Obama’s numbers weren’t too far off from that in a survey last month from the same polling unit. It found the president with 43 percent approval and 54 percent disapproval.
Unless Obama’s approval ratings improve, vulnerable Democrats in swing states will be wary of welcoming him to the stump. More likely are visits there from Bill Clinton, whose post-presidency popularity spreads across a wider swath of voters. He’s been a constant presence on the trail for Democrats since Obama took office.
“I don’t think you are going to see [Obama] do a lot of campaigning, but there are some places — does he go to New Hampshire or Iowa, places like that, for Senate races?” Democratic pollster John Anzalone said. “I do think most presidents concentrate on being a fundraising asset.”
If the election were this week, it’s unlikely Obama would turn up in Iowa. A poll last month found him with a 38 percent approval rating there, despite winning the swing state twice. It’s also nearly a lock there won’t be many stops on the schedule for Senate Democrats’ four most vulnerable incumbents in Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina.