The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza created something of a stir recently with his column headlined, “2014 Senate races may be a referendum on Obama; if so, Democrats should worry.”
Cillizza (a former Cook Political Report staffer) linked to the Gallup Organization’s just-released aggregation of all of its 2013 polling data, with President Obama’s job-approval and disapproval numbers broken down by state.
Cillizza observed that Obama has disapproval ratings over 50 percent in 10 of the 21 states where Democrats are defending Senate seats this year. The disapprovals were over 55 percent in open Democratic Senate seat states in West Virginia (67.3 percent), Montana (60.9 percent), and South Dakota (59.3 percent).
These disapproval numbers can also be seen in the two states represented by the most-endangered Democratic incumbents: Arkansas (57 percent), where Mark Pryor is facing the stiffest of all challenges, and Alaska (55.4 percent), where Mark Begich is fighting for reelection.
While Cillizza’s point is hardly earth-shattering, it is very important and worth keeping in mind. As much as anything, midterm elections tend to be a referendum on the incumbent president. When voters are unhappy, they tend to vote to punish the president’s party’s candidates. If voters are satisfied, they generally find some other basis on which to decide their vote. It may be unfair, but that’s the way it is.
As of late, Obama’s numbers have been languishing in the low 40s, occasionally dipping below 40 percent, while at other times reaching as high as 45 or 46 percent. The president’s disapproval numbers generally bounce around the 50 percent mark, half the time slightly higher, the other half a bit lower. Obama’s approval numbers are almost precisely tracking those of George W. Bush at this point in his presidency. But he is trailing far behind those of Ronald Reagan, who at this point had approval numbers in the low 60s, and Bill Clinton, who was in the high 50s.
Given this situation, the challenge for Democratic candidates is to ensure that the focal point of their campaigns is something other than Obama (and, one might add, the Affordable Care Act). In an optimal situation, Democrats should be able to put the focus on their Republican rivals’ flaws or miscues, real or imagined, thereby deflecting attention from Obama and the general disapproval that voters have with where the country is going. (The NBC News Political Unit recently found that the “right direction” number has not exceeded the “wrong track” in over 10 years, a startling sign of long-term discontent with the country’s leadership). Democratic opposition-research consultants will need to really earn their paychecks this year.
At the same time, Republicans cannot obsess over health care in this election. While polls show that voters disapprove of the Affordable Care Act and don’t think it will help them or the country, they oppose repealing or defunding it. They want it fixed, not thrown out, nor do they want to go back to square one. The smart Republicans should be arguing for fixing the flawed law; the smart Democrats should admit its imperfections and seek to improve its shortcomings. Alas, this is a difficult task for a partisan on either side of the aisle.
For Republican candidates and campaigns, it will be shame on them if they allow the focus to be put on themselves, rather than on Obama and his administration’s policies. To the extent that the GOP contenders have thus far handed their opponents damaging ammunition, they should assume that it will be used against them with maximum effectiveness. There is a reason why Republicans have only defeated three incumbent Democratic senators in the last five elections (Tom Daschle, Russ Feingold, and Blanche Lincoln). During the same period, Democrats have knocked off 11 GOP incumbents. To put it a different way, going into Election Day in 2010 — a great year for the GOP when they picked up a net six Senate seats — there were seven Senate races rated as Toss-Up by The Cook Political Report. Republicans lost five out of seven. Two years later, there were 10 Toss-Up Senate races, and the GOP lost eight of them. In recent years, Senate Republicans have had an unusually difficult time knocking out Democratic incumbents, and have disproportionately lost the really close races. Part of the problem has to do with the GOP’s habit of nominating the wrong candidates. Another big factor is that Democrats have done a better job sliming GOP Senate candidates than Republicans have done trashing their Democratic competition.
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Before we get to the specifics of this exposé about escorts working the Iowa and New Hampshire primary crowds, let’s get three things out of the way: 1.) It’s from Cosmopolitan; 2.) most of the women quoted use fake (if colorful) names; and 3.) again, it’s from Cosmopolitan. That said, here’s what we learned:
- Business was booming: one escort who says she typically gets two inquiries a weekend got 15 requests in the pre-primary weekend.
- Their primary season clientele is a bit older than normal—”40s through mid-60s, compared with mostly twentysomething regulars” and “they’ve clearly done this before.”
- They seemed more nervous than other clients, because “the stakes are higher when you’re working for a possible future president” but “all practiced impeccable manners.”
- One escort “typically enjoy[s] the company of Democrats more, just because I feel like our views line up a lot more.”
No matter where you stand on mandating companies to include a backdoor in encryption technologies, it doesn’t make sense to allow that decision to be made on a state level. “The problem with state-level legislation of this nature is that it manages to be both wildly impractical and entirely unenforceable,” writes Brian Barrett at Wired. There is a solution to this problem. “California Congressman Ted Lieu has introduced the ‘Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016,’ which we’ll call ENCRYPT. It’s a short, straightforward bill with a simple aim: to preempt states from attempting to implement their own anti-encryption policies at a state level.”
Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”
The New Covenant. The Third Way. The Democratic Leadership Council style. Call it what you will, but whatever centrist triangulation Bill Clinton embraced in 1992, Hillary Clinton wants no part of it in 2016. Writing for Bloomberg, Sasha Issenberg and Margaret Talev explore how Hillary’s campaign has “diverged pointedly” from what made Bill so successful: “For Hillary to survive, Clintonism had to die.” Bill’s positions in 1992—from capital punishment to free trade—“represented a carefully calibrated diversion from the liberal orthodoxy of the previous decade.” But in New Hampshire, Hillary “worked to juggle nostalgia for past Clinton primary campaigns in the state with the fact that the Bill of 1992 or the Hillary of 2008 would likely be a marginal figure within today’s Democratic politics.”
At first, “it was pleasant” to see Trevor Noah “smiling away and deeply dimpling in the Stewart seat, the seat that had lately grown gray hairs,” writes The Atlantic‘s James Parker in assessing the new host of the once-indispensable Daily Show. But where Jon Stewart was a heavyweight, Noah is “a very able lightweight, [who] needs time too. But he won’t get any. As a culture, we’re not about to nurture this talent, to give it room to grow. Our patience was exhausted long ago, by some other guy. We’re going to pass judgment and move on. There’s a reason Simon Cowell is so rich. Impress us today or get thee hence. So it comes to this: It’s now or never, Trevor.”