Politics & Policy

Democrats and the Panic Button

David Jolly celebrates his win.
The Florida loss, plus Senate polls, spells trouble for them in November.

Democratic strategists are quietly hitting the panic button. As political analyst Charlie Cook noted yesterday, “Democrats haven’t had a week this bad since 2010 and it’s only Wednesday.” Not only did Democrats lose a special election in Florida, but a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal national poll and surveys in four key Senate races (by a Democratic pollster) are painting an ugly picture for November.

Analysts can disagree about the national meaning of the Florida special election, but the fact that the Democratic dream candidate — former Florida state financial officer Alex Sink — outspent and lost to David Jolly, a former Washington lobbyist, in a district carried twice by Obama has to be bad news. As Adam C. Smith of the Tampa Bay Times noted, Sink “ran a hyper-disciplined campaign with a far more robust get-out-the-vote effort than Republicans.” But she still lost.

#ad#What Democrats are worried about is the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which only ratifies other national surveys showing the grisly nature of the political playing field for Democrats. Asked whether they were more or less likely to support a candidate endorsed by President Obama, respondents turned thumbs down on Obama by 42 percent to 22 percent. Asked whether they would be more likely to back a candidate who was a strong supporter of Obama, the results were worse: 48 percent to 26 percent.

Democrats looking for a better economy to improve their November prospects should cash in their bonds. A full 57 percent of voters think the country is still in recession, and only 26 percent think the economy will improve in the next twelve months. Obamacare, a huge issue in the Florida special election Democrats just lost, is backed by 35 percent of those polled. Geoff Garin, who was Alex Sink’s Democratic pollster, laconically notes that “the Affordable Care Act was a motivating factor for Republicans to turn out and vote and less so for Democrats.” What that means is that the scramble for the exit gates on Obamacare by Democratic candidates will now be unseemly. They don’t have to read more polls to find out what is in store for them if they defend Obamacare.

When it comes to campaigns for the Senate, the numbers in key races are also grim, in surveys by Hickman Analytics, a Democratic polling firm. In Arkansas, Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor has only a three-point lead, 40 percent to 37 percent, over a lesser-known GOP challenger, Representative Tom Cotton, who already leads him among definite voters and has a better chance of winning over undecided voters.

In Louisiana, an energy-producing state with real grievances against the Obama administration, Representative Bill Cassidy (R.) leads Democratic senator Mary Landrieu (D.) by 46 percent to 42 percent among likely voters and a full 49 percent to 40 percent among definite voters. Cassidy is only half as well known as Landrieu but, as a physician critical of Obamacare, is an effective messenger on health care.

In North Carolina, incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan leads GOP candidate Thom Tillis 45 percent to 41 percent among likely voters, a dangerous zone for an incumbent.

Finally, in Colorado, which President Obama carried twice, a Rasmussen poll shows Democratic incumbent Mark Udall with a lead of only 42 percent to 41 percent over Republican representative Cory Gardner; once again the incumbent is underperforming where he should be at this point in the race.

As Charlie Cook notes: “For well-known incumbents, there is a tendency for WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), that incumbents generally don’t grow their actual vote much above their poll numbers, undecided voters tend to break more for challengers. That’s why these numbers should be so troubling for Democrats.” Indeed, enough Democratic incumbents are below the 50 percent threshold nationwide that, if the election were held today, Republicans would clearly retake the Senate.

President Obama will no doubt raise piles of campaign money for his party this November. But all the signs in recent polls are that the negative attitudes dragging down his poll numbers are hardening. Continued problems with Obamacare are likely only to accelerate that process, which is why the administration is throwing more portions of the law over the side with each passing week.

Republicans are weighed down by lots of their own baggage, including the lack of a compelling alternative to Obama’s policies. But for now, none of them would trade their baggage for the groaning weight of what Democrats look like they will be dragging behind them in November.

— John Fund is national-affairs columnist for NRO.

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