Republicans get what they want: A midterm election about Obama

Less than 24 hours before Election Day, Republicans have what they want: a referendum on President Obama.

GOP candidates are training their closing arguments on Obama, full of confidence that voter dissatisfaction with the White House will punch their ticket to a Senate majority.

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“This is not brain surgery,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean, who argued “it’s obvious Obama has become an anchor” for Democrats.

Alaska Republican Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanDems slam proposed changes to Endangered Species Act GOP senator: NATO summit 'turned out well' Sunday shows preview: Trump readies for meeting with Putin MORE, who hopes to unseat Sen. Mark BegichMark Peter BegichAlaska congressional candidate has never visited the state: AP Former Alaska senator jumps into governor race Overnight Energy: Trump directs Perry to stop coal plant closures | EPA spent ,560 on customized pens | EPA viewed postcard to Pruitt as a threat MORE (D), in his final campaign ad is pledging to “stand up to Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaEx-White House stenographer: Trump is ‘lying to the American people’ Trump has the right foreign policy strategy — he just needs to stop talking The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump faces bipartisan criticism over Putin presser, blames media for coverage MORE and federal overreach.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is flooding Georgia with ads highlighting Obama’s claim that a victory by Democrat Michelle Nunn would insure Democrats keep the Senate.

In Louisiana, Rep. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyGOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE Lawmakers pitch dueling plans for paid family leave New push to break deadlock on paid family leave MORE (R-La.) is hammering Sen. Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuFormer New Orleans mayor: It's not my 'intention' to run for president Dems grasp for way to stop Trump's Supreme Court pick Landrieu dynasty faces a pause in Louisiana MORE (D-La.) over a comment that suggested race was a reason for Obama’s low approval ratings in the state.

In New Hampshire, where a victory by Republican Scott Brown would likely reflect a huge night for Republicans, Brown is mocking Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) for voting with President Obama “99 percent of the time.”

Staffers at the Republican National Committee dressed as Democrats running from the president for Halloween.

“Basically, since Labor Day, that’s been their only message,” said Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf. “The vast majority of the races are in states where the president is not currently popular and never has been popular. It’s not like Arkansas was ever voting Obama.”

Strategists and analysts say the reason Republicans haven’t deviated from the theme is that so far, it’s paid dividends.

Iowa Republican Joni Ernst and her surrogates have made the president the central issue in her Senate campaign.

“Let me just say that probably the happiest guy in the country today is Jimmy Carter,” Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) quipped to a crowd in Ames on the final night of Ernst’s 99-county tour. “Because Barack Obama is making him look competent.”

The GOP effort has been aided by a series of crises, from Ebola to the Secret Service, that have played to their central theme of administrative incompetence.

The problems have made it harder for Democrats to turn to their core economic message.

“All the other issues tie into that theme,” said Princeton University political historian Julian Zelizer. “That’s why midterms often go poorly — opposition parties have the advantage that they can pile on an unpopular president. Smart parties keep the message focused on that.”

The president’s successes have also been relative and occasionally difficult to distill to an electorate that is largely checked out. And the White House is the first to admit that while the economy is recovering, too few Americans are seeing that reflected in their paychecks.

“Millions of Americans don't yet feel the benefits of a growing economy where it matters most, and that's in their own lives,” the president said Friday in Rhode Island. “You know, there's still a lot of folks who are working hard, but they're having trouble making ends meet.”

Targeting the president so aggressively has also scared Democrats away from campaigning with Obama, which, in turn, has made rallying base voters more difficult — a crucial task in the midterm election, and especially in Southern states with large black populations.

President Obama’s toxicity became a self-fulfilling prophecy as more and more vulnerable Democrats sought their distance — often in embarrassing ways, like Kentucky candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes’s refusal to say whether she voted for him.

The universal focus on Obama has also left most Democratic candidates on the defensive, which heightens the degree of difficulty for proactive attacks on Republican opponents.

“The way to get above a bad national race is to figure out an issue that trumps the national malaise,” said Elmendorf.

In North Carolina, a rare bright spot for Democrats this cycle, Sen. Kay HaganKay Ruthven Hagan2020 Dems compete for top campaign operatives Senate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Politics is purple in North Carolina MORE (D-N.C.) has been able to frame the race as a referendum on Republican Thom Tillis’s education record.

“The smart candidates are the ones who figure out a way around it,” Elmendorf said.

Obama, for his part, has seemed disappointed by his lot this election. At a campaign appearance in Maine last week, he admitted he was “a little wistful” for the campaign trail.

“I do like campaigning. It’s fun,” he told his audience.

Still, advisers insist Obama understands the politics at play and cares more than anything about winning. And, having been boxed out of campaigning gives the president an excuse if things go south on Tuesday.

“Ultimately, those Democratic candidates will have to develop their own strategies in their states for figuring out how exactly to do that,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said this week. “And there are people running in red states that have a strong track record. … So it should be their decision. It's ultimately their campaign; it's their name that's on the ballot.”