By Aaron Blake and Reid Wilson - 10/07/09 11:41 PM EDT
Obama will make a rare cameo appearance in a House race this month when he holds a New York City fundraiser for special-election candidate Bill Owens.
Obama has been reticent to get involved in congressional races — especially the House — and has more often than not had Vice President Joe Biden do the political legwork for him.
Obama’s more active role in Owens’s campaign could be a sign that things are changing. Republicans have stood firmly against Obama’s agenda, and perhaps now he feels it won’t undercut his bipartisan message as much if he helps his party out.
Either that, or the grumbling is getting to him. Obama was also quick to endorse appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) when he received a primary challenge recently, and he has raised money for Sens. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in recent months.
Owens, who faces a competitive race with GOP Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava and Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, has a real shot at taking Army Secretary John McHugh’s (R-N.Y.) former House seat.
“It’s an honor to have the president’s backing, and I’m grateful that he is taking the time to support our campaign,” Owens said in a statement. “I look forward to working with President Obama in Congress, where I’ll join his efforts to create jobs and get our economy back on track.”
The Democratic Party is about to lose dozens of seats in Congress — or so Republicans are starting to believe after a series of polls showing the generic congressional ballot creeping back toward parity and President Barack Obama’s ratings sinking.
A newsletter sent around by the Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies — and quickly adopted by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who heads GOP recruitment efforts, and others — shows correlations between the president’s approval rating and congressional midterm results. And as Obama’s ratings hover around 50 percent, it could be terrible news for Democrats if historical trends hold.
Since 1962, if a president’s job approval is above 60 percent, a president’s party gains an average of one seat in the House. If those job approval numbers are between 50 and 59, the president’s party loses an average of 12 seats during a midterm. If the president’s approval rating dips below 50 percent, those House losses hit an average of 41 seats. Currently, there are 256 Democratic members of the House and 177 Republicans.
Obama’s job approval stands at about 52 percent, according to an average of the latest polls compiled by Real Clear Politics, the independent website that tracks polling data. What’s more, an average of reliable polls shows Democrats have just a 4.5-point advantage on the generic ballot, down from a 12-point advantage at this time in 2007 and a nine-point edge at the same time in 2005, both cycles in which Democrats picked up more than 20 seats.
Republicans’ work is not done, but the news is giving party strategists a reason to smile.
“It’s pretty clear in this data that we’re back in the ballgame, and it’s a ballgame that we have not been in for quite some time,” said Glen Bolger, a co-founder of Public Opinion Strategies. “Compared to where we’ve been, we might not be back in the promised land, but for the first time in a long time, we can see it.”
Bolger pointed to the correlation between a president’s approval numbers and his party’s performance in congressional elections, arguing that the party that does not hold the White House can benefit from heightened voter intensity.
“A tie on the generic ballot going into the election is going to favor Republicans, because people want a check and balance on Democratic control, and Republicans are fired up to vote,” he said.
But, Bolger cautioned: “Looking at my calendar, it says 2009, not 2010.”
Or maybe politics trickles up …
A few weeks ago, this column mentioned that despite Republican claims that their base is inspired and ready to turn out in record numbers, those promises had not turned into victories in special elections. Until now.
Republicans called the results bad news for Reps. Martin Heinrich and Harry Teague, Democratic freshmen who won Republican seats in the Land of Enchantment in 2008.
The GOP has two strong candidates running this cycle. Former Albuquerque Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President Jon Barela (R) will take on Heinrich, while former Rep. Steve Pearce (R) is running for the seat he vacated last year to run for Senate.