Of course, Obama wasn’t on the ballot, although that’s cold comfort for 2010. In New Jersey, the African-American turnout held up from 2008 to 2009, but the youth vote dropped off from 17 percent to 9 percent of the electorate. The infatuation of starry-eyed Obama kids apparently isn’t transferable. In Virginia, the youth vote fell off by half, and the African-American vote went from 20 percent of the electorate to 14 percent.
Obama’s mistake is governing as if he has a heroic mandate when he really has a modest one. This is his mandate gap. It accounts for the paradox of his current political standing. His job approval is holding up around 50 percent, and people still like him, even as his rating on key issues — health care, the economy, and the deficit — falters.
The mandate gap is a potential killer for Democrats not named Barack. Consider poor Creigh Deeds, the losing Democrat in Virginia. He got saddled with Obama’s unpopular policy positions, while Obama’s likability naturally didn’t make him any more charismatic or inspiring. At the end of his campaign, Deeds ran an ad consisting entirely of vintage Obama waxing poetic about him at a campaign rally, in the forlorn hope the magic would rub off.
It didn’t, and it won’t for other Democrats. The mandate gap threatens their congressional majority. They’ll persist anyway, sprinkling more pixie dust on their tattered fairy tale and wishing, wishing it were so.
— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. © 2009 by King Features Syndicate
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been amended since its inital posting.