The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

It’s Never a Referendum on Obama, Is It?


Ron Brownstein becomes the latest big media voice to recognize that whatever the flaws of the eventual GOP candidate, President Obama will run for reelection in a country that, in many places, really doesn’t approve of the job he’s doing:

In sum then, Obama in 2010 could reach an Electoral College majority by carrying states where his approval rating stood at least at 46.6 percent, something that would be difficult but hardly impossible. To reach a majority based on the 2011 results, he’d need to carry states where his approval stood at 43.7 percent or above. That’s a much more daunting prospect.

There are lots of reasons why the Gallup numbers could be more a snapshot of the past than a forecast of the future. Obama’s approval rating has generally run slightly lower in the Gallup tracking poll than in most other surveys. More important, his ratings have generally ticked up in most recent polls as Americans have expressed somewhat more optimism about the economy’s trajectory, and he has shifted the Washington debate away from deficit-reduction toward jobs and tax equity; those improvements would not be heavily reflected in these numbers. He’s also generally polling above his approval ratings in head-to-head match-ups against the leading Republican contenders-who have seen their favorability ratings decline amid their fierce primary struggle. But even with all those qualifications, these Gallup numbers show how much work awaits the Obama campaign, not only in states at the border of the emerging Democratic coalition like Virginia, Florida and Nevada, but some, like Pennsylvania and Oregon that have been part of its core since 1992.

The argument of President Obama and his fans is that in 2012, the country will face “a choice, not a referendum on Obama.”

It’s a familiar refrain.

After New Jersey and Virginia: “Elections not a referendum on Obama.”

After Scott Brown’s victory: “A top adviser to President Obama rejected assertions that Tuesday’s vote was a referendum on the president or Democratic policies, and instead took a shot at Coakley.”

On the eve of the 2010 midterms: “I don’t see that it’s a referendum necessarily on the president.”

Last September: “Gov. Cuomo is rejecting talk that the NY-9 race between Democrat David Weprin and Republican Bob Turner is actually a referendum on President Obama.”

For three years now, we’ve been told that Democratic losses are not reflective of the president, and that each contest does not reflect disappointment or frustration or anger with the president, because his name wasn’t on the ballot. Well, come November 2012, his name is on the ballot, and Democrats have to hope that the mysterious strange, inexplicable, anti-Democrat mood that cropped up shortly after Obama took office and keeps manifesting in the most unlikely of places somehow doesn’t appear again.

Tags: Barack Obama , Democrats


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