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Will Obama Bring Down Senate Dems in 2014?

12:15 PM, Jan 22, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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Barack Obama's average approval rating is currently just below 43 percent. If that sustains itself through November, says Real Clear Politics's Sean Trende, Democrats running for the Senate this year could be in trouble. Trende has run the numbers on how presidential approval relates to performance of the in-party's Senate candidates and sees a pattern.

"[I]n the 31 competitive Senate races held in 2010 and 2012, the Democratic candidate has run within five points of the president’s job approval in 23 of them (75 percent)," he writes. "Additionally, no Democratic candidate in a competitive race has run more than 10 points ahead of the president’s job approval (or behind it)."

In other words, the lower Obama's approval rating, the more Democratic Senate candidates who will have to outperform past Democratic candidates in their states to win their races. With Obama's approval rating at record lows, the map of competitive Senate races has necessarily expanded.

Here's more from Trende:

This is how most journalists seem to see the races right now: A few contests that are largely unwinnable by Democrats, some where they are in trouble but can win, and a bunch of others where Republicans might be able to win under the correct circumstances. This is the conventional wisdom that solidified in the spring of last year. It was the correct analysis at the time, when the president was at 50 percent.

But over the course of the summer, his job approval numbers slid into the mid-40s. The conventional wisdom didn’t follow. Given that movement, we would expect to see races in Colorado, New Hampshire, Virginia and Iowa become competitive, while Democrats in races in Michigan and Minnesota would start looking shaky. Individual polling started to suggest this, although it was largely dismissed.

With the movement of the president’s job approval numbers into the low 40s, the Democrats’ Senate odds would deteriorate considerably. Things should look dire for Democrats in the three open seats in red states, as well as for the four “red state” Democratic incumbents (Mark Pryor, Kay Hagan, Mary Landrieu, and Mark Begich). Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado and Virginia should look pretty rough, and Oregon, Michigan and Minnesota could be truly competitive.

Make sure to read the whole thing, particularly to see how Trende's charts show that an uptick in Obama's popularity over the next several months could reverse these bad fortunes for Democrats and keep safe many seats Republicans are now targeting. "If Obama’s job approval does bounce back -- which is exactly what happened in 2012 -- there’s a reasonable chance that Republicans could walk away from this cycle with just a handful of pickups," Trende writes.

But Democrats and their allies likely see the writing on the wall when it comes to Obama's job approval, which explains why they are trying to change the subject from the president's signature law, Obamacare, to anything else:

But Democrats are conspicuously trying to change the subject. Senate majority leader Harry Reid said in a December interview there is “no greater challenge” to the country than income inequality. The mainstream media picked up on the cue.

“Income gap takes shape as a focus ahead of midterms,” read the front-page Washington Postheadline on January 7, the same day Reid took up a vote to end debate on extending unemployment insurance. That came just days after President Obama argued publicly for raising the minimum wage.

Meanwhile, Reid’s political arm, Senate Majority PAC, has begun targeting GOP Senate candidates over last fall’s government shutdown. Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana congressman challenging Landrieu, is “part of the problem” according to one ad because he “voted 16 times to shut down the government.” Another House member running for the Senate, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, was called “reckless” and “irresponsible” for his support of the shutdown. Another ad targets former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown, who may run against Shaheen in New Hampshire, for being a friend to Wall Street and big banks.

Democrats’ best hope to shift the focus away from Obamacare may come from Republicans themselves. Duffy says that if the GOP nominates too many problematic Senate candidates who draw negative attention to themselves (think of Christine O’Donnell of Delaware in 2010 or Todd Akin of Missouri in 2012), the political heat of Obamacare could be tempered.

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