By Alexander Bolton - 02/10/12 11:00 AM EST
Senate Democrats are optimistic about President Obama’s chances of reelection and think he could have coattails this November.
Democratic lawmakers described the president as being “really upbeat” and in a “good mood” on Wednesday when he addressed the Senate Democratic Conference during a one-day retreat at Nationals Park in southeast D.C.
They said Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, gave an encouraging presentation on the president’s strategy for winning reelection, a plan that relied heavily on using social media to mobilize voters.
Senate Democrats have to defend 23 seats while Republicans have to preserve only 10 this election cycle, giving Democrats an uphill climb to preserve their majority.
But the strengthening economy and Obama’s rising poll numbers give them new hope.
“Just repeat to yourself eight times a day: ‘Twenty-three consecutive months of jobs created in the private sector,’ ” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).
“Plus, I think the Republicans are helping,” he said in reference to the contentious GOP presidential primary and the declining approval rating of congressional Republicans.
There's no doubt Democrats still face a challenge in holding the Senate, but the improving economy has them feeling better about Obama and themselves.
Rockefeller and other Senate Democrats think Obama could help Democratic candidates down the ballot, something they did not envision six months ago.
“It would depend upon the individual Senate candidate, but anytime a president does well it’s better for the others on the ballot,” he said.
The economy added 243,000 jobs last month, far surpassing many economists’ expectations and sending the Dow Jones to a height not seen since May 2008. On Thursday, jobless claims were reported at 358,000, beating analysts’ expectations that they would reach 370,000.
A Gallup poll from this week showed that Obama’s approval rating ticked up to 49 percent while his disapproval fell to 45 percent. A Washington Post-ABC News poll earlier this month showed Obama leading GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney 51 percent to 45 among registered voters.
“If the economy continues to improve, that will buttress his argument: 'Don’t change horses now, we’re on the right path.' That’s going to add greatly to his electability,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). “And of course there’s disarray in the Republican ranks.
“The whole thing is the economy. If the economy continues to improve, we keep bringing unemployment down, jobs keep growing, Obama will be reelected. If it doesn’t, we’re in trouble,” he added.
Democrats say their prospects appeared glum only a few months ago.
“Six months ago it was bleak, it was really bleak. Now it’s looking better,” Harkin said.
Six months ago the Labor Department reported the economy had added zero jobs in August and the unemployment rate stood at 9.1 percent. Now it’s at 8.3 percent.
Only 11 percent of the country was satisfied with the direction of the country in August, according to Gallup. That number doubled to 22 percent this month.
“If the trends continue to improve as they have, the president’s chances of reelection improve,” said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). “The trends are in his favor at the present time.
“The giddiness may be a result of how pessimistic people have been,” Nelson said of the optimism bubbling among his Democratic colleagues these days.
While many voters remain dissatisfied, Democrats see clear progress and believe it bodes well for Obama’s political appeal and how it will affect their own chances of hanging on to the Senate majority.
Some Democrats, however, acknowledge Obama’s reelection chances — and their own — might hinge on passing a 10-month extension of the payroll tax holiday.
“The White House believes if we can pass the payroll tax extension, they’ll win reelection,” said a senior Democratic aide.
White House and congressional Democratic strategists see Obama’s political hopes pegged to the economy. A lapse of the payroll tax cut could cause the gross domestic product to drop by nearly a percentage point and send up the unemployment rate.
Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, estimated that allowing the tax holiday to lapse over the course of a full year would result in the creation of a million jobs. A 10-month lapse, a possibility if Congress does not reach a deal by Feb. 29, could cost about 830,000 jobs.
Democratic leaders suspect Republicans will try to blow up a potential deal on extending the payroll tax and unemployment benefits, which also spur economic activity, to hurt Obama’s reelection chances.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) tried to pre-empt that possibility by accusing Republicans of wanting to derail the economic recovery for political gain.
“What are they going to talk about if the economy continues to improve?” Reid said Tuesday.
Republicans tried to change the narrative this week by accusing Democrats of standing in the way of an agreement on the payroll tax rate.
Republican conferees offered several proposals to pay for a 10-month extension of the payroll tax holiday, which Democrats rejected.
“I'm beginning to ask myself the question, is this a serious effort to find a way to extend the payroll tax holiday and unemployment insurance? Or is it just a way to say no and keep beating up on millionaires and billionaires?” said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) a negotiator in the Senate-House conference on payroll taxes.
Reid said Republicans are pushing offsets that were deemed unacceptable in December.
“They want to cut Medicare. The reason we had to settle for a two-month deal in the first place was Leader McConnell tried to insist on cutting seniors' Medicare benefit as a must-have in a yearlong package. It didn't work. Now it's back on the table,” he said.