Like Katherine Hepburn, once dubbed “box office poison” by aggrieved theater owners after a string of flops, Obama is quickly earning a toxic reputation among his fellow Democrats at the ballot box. To fully appreciate the Democrats’ dilemma, take a look at John Judis’s collection of graphs. In Missouri the Democratic candidate Robin Carnahan is taking a nose dive; Obama’s approval rating in the state is too. Same story in Colorado with Democratic senator Michael Bennet. Obama’s approval rating there is now in negative territory. Ditto in the Ohio gubernatorial race and the Pennsylvania senate contest. (A new poll out today shows Republican Pat Toomey grabbing double-digit leads against both Democratic contenders.) And the shift to Republicans in generic congressional polling — an historic anomaly — shows just how widespread and intense is the pall that Obama has cast over his party.
The bottom line, says Judis, is that “viewed as a whole, they present a picture of a national decline in public support for Democratic politics and for the Obama administration radiating outward from Washington and threatening Democratic candidates in states that Democrats must generally win to carry national elections.”
It is no wonder that the Democrats are worried. This president feels compelled to be everywhere. And now he’s a danger to each and every incumbent. What can Democrats do? (Like the movie-studio contract players of old, Obama can’t be dumped until his “deal” runs out.) They can hope Obama regains his footing. They can try to run from him, at the risk of alienating their own liberal base who thinks the problem is insufficient tenacity in the pursuit of grossly unpopular policies.
There is no great answer for the many vulnerable Democrats who voted for his now discredited initiatives, as there was none for many Republicans on the ballot in 2006. They too had nowhere to hide as an unpopular war and corruption scandals dragged them under. The more tenacious of them figured out how to buck their party hierarchy and confess the errors of their party. But until national circumstances change or a new president (or new agenda) appears, those members of the president’s party on the ballot (even at the state and local level) get hit hard when the White House falters. And they really get hit hard when the economy is in a bad shape and there’s really nobody to hold accountable other than those who hold all the levers of power.