Obama’s turn to change

What is the most damaging — Democrats losing control in the House, the GOP falling short of control in the Senate, the decimated ranks of centrist and conservative Democrats, the coming investigations, the loss of 19 state legislatures to the Republicans, who will now have a lock on redistricting, or the flight of independents, women and suburban voters to the GOP? For President Obama, preparing a reelection campaign for 2012, it would be hard to imagine a worse outcome to the 2010 midterm elections. 

Democrats have now vacated the South and the Midwest, and Republicans have reclaimed territory Obama won in 2008, including Pennsylvania, Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. The election shrank the Obama coalition that won in 2008, with women, independents, Roman Catholics and suburban voters all trending away from Democrats. Seniors showed up in high numbers, and a majority of them voted for Republicans. 

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Rural areas represented by Blue Dog Democrats were wiped out, making them much harder for Obama to win in 2012. Moreover, the loss of those conservative Democrats, combined with a GOP takeover, will make Democrats remaining in Congress — liberals in safe, mostly urban seats — likely even tougher on Obama and more confrontational in the next two years.

Polls continue to confirm that what began as a problem for Obama in his primary battle against Hillary Clinton in 2008 — the lack of support among working-class white voters — has only grown worse. A recent Associated Press-GfK poll found that white voters without four-year college degrees now support Republicans by 22 points, twice the margin they did in the 2006 and 2008 elections. 

A majority of voters oppose the healthcare reform law and punished Democrats who supported it. Republicans in Congress plan to de-fund as much as they can of the law, and any Democrats remaining from swing districts will be inclined to join Republicans to support at least some, if not all, of the rescissions.

Beyond joining with Republicans to pass spending cuts, and additional tax cuts, education reform is likely the only issue fellow Democrats would like to see President Obama push in 2011. Any ideas on energy reform that have already been rejected not only by Republicans but by Democrats, even when they had more votes, are out of the question — just ask Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Jim Webb (D-Va.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and other Democrats up for reelection in 2012. Immigration reform that couples earned legalization with border security? Forget it. 

Finally, the 2010 midterms showed that the flood of outside money is only just beginning. After succeeding in spending more than $50 million on the midterm elections in 2010, conservative groups that harnessed the power of deep pockets supporting Republicans with the ability to raise funds in secret plan to aim their firepower at the presidential election in 2012. Obama — who has pushed for the passage of the Disclose Act to require more transparency — will find himself drowning, at a severe financial disadvantage should he not reverse direction so that groups on the Democratic side can hit up their own allies for large donations as well. 

With forces such as these at play, the White House can no longer rely on the hope that the Republicans nominate a weak candidate and the economy improves. President Obama can’t get reelected campaigning on college campuses. He will have to realize that the voters are asking him for a change, but this time they don’t want the country to change, they want him to change. To do that he must adjust, or he will lose.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.