By Justin Sink - 11/04/14 11:38 PM EST
Democrats dismayed with the loss of the Senate are pointing the finger squarely at President Obama.
In race after race across the country, vulnerable Democrats were unable to shed the shadow of a deeply unpopular White House.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said the president’s energy policies “absolutely” hurt Democratic chances among voters in coal country and that voters in his state had the “perception of the government attacking them, which basically is what's happening.”
“It doesn't make sense that we have to fight so hard against our own government and our own administration and our president to try to find a balance,” Manchin told MSNBC.
According to exit polls, two-thirds of voters believe the country is on the wrong track, and half disapprove of the president’s job performance.
As the dust settled Tuesday night, top Democratic aides and strategists vented frustration with an administration they say could have done more to help the party out.
“It was President Obama dragging candidates down across the country,” one Senate Democratic aide said. “It was a tough map to start with, and his numbers were especially bad in these states, making it that much harder to overcome.”
They lamented that the president repeatedly nationalized the election, even though he knew he was unpopular in many 2014 battleground states.
In a speech that effectively kicked off his midterm campaign, Obama said that while he was not on the ballot, his policies were.
Just a few weeks later, he told Al Sharpton that Democrats in Republican-leaning states reticent to appear with him “vote with me” and “have supported my agenda in Congress.”
Even if Obama hadn’t tied the races to himself, Democrats say the last two years allowed Republicans to turn the race into a referendum on his presidency.
“It’s an inescapable fact that this election was more about Obama and frustration with his presidency than any other factor,” said one prominent Democratic strategist. “You can blame, in some cases, bad strategy, bad candidacy, bad ads — but the one ring that unites them all was anger and frustration toward Obama's policies.”
While Democrats said the map was stacked against Obama, they also blamed multiple crises for hurting the Obama and Democratic brands.
Just 44 percent of voters approve of the federal government’s handling of the Ebola crisis, according to exit polls. Meanwhile, 72 percent are fearful of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
“They had a positive story they could have told on the economy,” the strategist said. “It's not perfect, but you have positive jobs growth, GDP growth, and that message was completely overwhelmed by a series of management missteps that began almost immediately after he walked in for the second term.”
Another Democrat involved in the campaigns said the president’s strategy of relying heavily on executive orders allowed Republicans to escape responsibility for dysfunction in Washington. The executive action was intended to show a White House willing to act but also invited criticism.
“The pen-and-phone strategy was a little shortsighted and a little naive, and it took the pressure off Congress to do their job,” said one strategist.
Liberals have criticized Obama for failing to move to the left.
“President Obama needs to care more about the economic issues that everyday Americans care about than the fringe positions that House Republicans and Ted Cruz care about,” the liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee argued.
Still, Democratic strategist Doug Thornell cautioned against reading too much into the Republican victory, noting that most loses were in states Mitt Romney won in 2012.
Obama has also made that point, telling a radio station on Monday that many of the states hosting 2014 contests “tend to tilt Republican.”
“It would not be wise to draw as broad a conclusion about the outcome of this election as you would from a national presidential election, simply by virtue of the map and the states where this contest is taking place,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said this week.
The White House has also argued that Obama could have done more for Democrats — except many said he should stay away.
Several robocalls the president cut for candidates didn’t go out until hours before the polls opened. And while Obama went on radio for gubernatorial candidates and Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), other campaigns presumably declined similar outreach efforts.