Why the President is More Worried about the Senate

Why the President is More Worried about the Senate

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These days, most 2010 horse race speculation revolves around the House of Representatives.  The majority of seasoned political journalists, analysts and living room couch observers predict a Republican wave in 2010.  There is frustration with the economy, mounting frustrations with the Obama Administration and the whims of a curmudgeon American electorate that is simply cynical about the future.

It could be the Republican’s midterm to lose, based on recent projections.  Cook Political Report House Editor David Wasserman predicts Republicans gaining 42 seats in November, up from his previous projection of 32 – the GOP need only 39 to retake the House.  Nate Silver’s Partisan Propensity Index doesn’t look good for Democrats either.  And, when viewing the RealClearPolitics.com polling aggregator, we discover 202 Democratic wins, 201 Republican wins and 32 “toss ups.”

But, few of us are really paying attention to the Senate.  Yet, the White House is.  House Democrats complain that the President is more focused on the fate of their Senate colleagues.  A July Politico story by Jonathan Martin unveils consternation on the House side:

House Democrats, however, believe the president himself is insufficiently focused on their prospects and grumble that he’s done three separate events for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), but none yet for an individual House member.

Why is the President focused on the Senate?  There may be a number of good reasons.  For one, with House races much more locally focused and volatile, having a House district-stumping President with approval ratings below 50% might not be good strategy.  The New York Times’ Jeff Zeleny says this much:

“You may not even want me to come to your district,” Mr. Obama said.  Three months before the midterm elections, the president is stepping up his involvement in the fight to preserve the Democratic Party’s control of Congress. But advisers said he would concentrate largely on delivering a message, raising money and motivating voters from afar, rather than on racing from district to district.

Plus, that same RealClearPolitics Senate poll has Democrats losing 8 seats, Republicans gaining 2, and 8 toss-ups – that would mean a Republican takeover of the Senate is not impossible.  The Cook Political Report shows a 5 to 7 seat net gain for Republicans, with 12 toss ups.   Nate Silver’s projection shows “… [o]ur latest Senate simulation has the chamber convening in 2011 with an average of 53.4 Democrats (counting Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders), 46.1Republicans, and 0.5 Charlie Crists.”  This is an improvement for Republicans from our last forecast three weeks ago.”  The Washington Post’s Chris Cizilla is entertaining that line of thinking in his Fix column:

“[A] look at the Senate playing field as it stands today reveals that Republicans can make a credible case that the majority is in play this fall — and that hasn’t always been the case this cycle. It would require a table-running of historic proportions but in a political environment as volatile as this one, nothing is out of the question.”

Gallup’s recent generic ballot concurs with that assessment, with Republicans now in a favorable position over Democrats, 48% to 43%.

The President, master political strategist that he is, is taking a close look at how his droopy ratings and high Senate race toss-ups coincide.  It could be a reason why Senate Democrats are less aggressive and more cautious these days, barely passing unemployment benefits and ditching climate change.  Plus, as a former Senator, membership has its advantages: he’s more personally inclined to stump for the least ideological and, in his mind, more reasonable of the two Chambers.  Additionally, I’m one of those few political observers who believe the White House political operation didn’t forget who supported them and didn’t support them during that caustic and expensive 2008 Democratic Presidential primary battle. Despite House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) support for then Candidate Obama, the primary race reticence of Congressional Black Caucus Members in the House surely left a painful memory in the mind of the President, who – as a CBC Member – expected his fraternity’s unequivocal support.  It made the job of gaining House Democratic Member endorsements during the primary that much harder.

Lastly, there is a school of thought suggesting the President may actually want to shed a majority … and may even be cool with two if it works out that way. Republicans in the majority leave the President embattled and alone in a corner, swinging like a proletarian and champion of the masses fending off the greedy, uncompassionate, pro-business GOP that won’t let him pass anything.  It sets up a juicy Biblical narrative for 2012.

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