For Congressional Dems, Time Is Almost Up

July 7, 2010

For months now, the alarm bells have been sounding for President Obama. First there was the drop in support among independents. Then his precipitous drop in support among white voters. Now comes the predictable news that Wall Street donors, sick of being used as political punching bags, are no longer lavishing campaign funds on Democrats.

But while these developments should be worrisome to the White House, they should be downright terrifying to congressional Democrats. Obama has time to right himself. For congressional Democrats, time has almost run out.

Obama’s struggle among white voters will be felt most acutely by House Democrats.

A series of focus groups in five states conducted last month for the conservative nonprofit group Resurgent Republic found that while independent voters have soured on Obama, they haven’t abandoned him completely. The same can’t be said of their feelings for congressional Democrats.

In analyzing one such group in Orlando, GOP pollster Jan van Lohuizen concluded that it was two issues, health care and BP’s oil spill, that ultimately soured these independent voters on Obama. On health care, van Lohuizen blames the process of the debate more than the substance for turning off independents. As for BP, voters are disappointed that they “don’t see strong leadership” from the president.

While Obama could still win these voters back in 2012, van Lohuizen says, they are “pretty well lost” to Democrats this fall.

These voters aren’t exactly sold on the GOP, either. If Republicans take control of Congress, they’ll “have to deliver,” said Resurgent director Ed Gillespie. If they don’t, voters will be more than willing to throw them out too.

Obama’s struggle among white voters has also gotten plenty of ink lately. Still, it’ll be felt most acutely and immediately by House Democrats. Only a handful of the 66 most vulnerable Democratic-held seats as rated by the Cook Political Report have significant minority populations. For example, three of the most vulnerable freshman Democrats — Kathy Dahlkemper (Pa.-03), John Boccieri (Ohio-16) and Mark Schauer (Mich.-07) — sit in districts that range between 87 percent and 93 percent white.

Moreover, the percentage of white voters tends to increase in midterm elections. That’s not always a problem for Democrats. In ’06, for example, while white voters made up 79 percent of the electorate, Democrats won 47 percent of the white vote. That year, many Democrats won in rural and overwhelmingly white districts. Think Zack Space in Ohio-18, Heath Shuler in N.C.-11, and Christopher Carney in Pa.-10.

This year, however, the white vote is breaking overwhelmingly toward the GOP. The most recent Gallup generic ballot shows white voters giving Democrats just 38 percent of the vote. That’s not just an Obama problem, that’s a Democratic problem.

Finally, we always knew that it was going to be tough for Obama to convey his Internet fundraising prowess to his Democratic colleagues. After all, first-time political donors who got swept up in Obama-mania are not going to be the slightest bit interested in supporting a random Democratic incumbent they’ve probably never heard of in the first place. But a poor economy combined with a frustrated donor base and the likelihood of an energized GOP 527 effort spells real danger for House Democrats. Their one saving grace is that the National Republican Congressional Committee has been unable to capitalize on its good fortune. If the NRCC doesn’t start raising some more money, and soon, it could leave a whole lot of seats on the table this fall. And we suspect that 527 groups like American Crossroads are going to be focusing their fire almost exclusively on Senate races, especially if they are having trouble hitting their fundraising goals.

With just over four months left until Election Day, there’s plenty of time for something big to happen that will change the current trajectory. But the emphasis should be on the word “big.” A simple change in tone or an uptick in trend lines ain’t gonna do it.

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