- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Rep. Tom Perriello’s re-election bid for Virginia’s 5th Congressional District floundered Tuesday in Albemarle County — the suburban community surrounding the site of a last-minute campaign visit by President Obama on Friday.

Mr. Obama’s inability to carry Mr. Perriello across the finish line is one of a number of troubling signs for the president in this week’s elections. It tracks Democrats’ travails in Ohio, Florida, Indiana and Virginia, all of which were critical Electoral College pickups for Mr. Obama in his 2008 presidential run, but where Democrats lost seats on Tuesday.

“West of Maryland and east of California, there’s no good place for Obama,” said Republican strategist and former Virginia official Michael McKenna. “I don’t know where you start your re-election campaign. I guess you go back to Illinois, but the rest of the world looks like a pretty lonely place for him. And it ain’t going to get any better.”

Even Illinois was a rough patch on Tuesday, as Mr. Obama’s former Senate seat and three House seats were captured by the GOP.

Altogether, Democrats lost five of the 11 House seats they had held in Indiana and Virginia combined, lost five of the 10 seats they had held in Ohio, and lost four of their 10 Florida seats, leaving each state a substantially deeper red. Although Virginia didn’t have a Senate or governor’s race, Republicans won Senate and gubernatorial contests in each of the other three states.

Like Virginia’s 5th District, Democrats in many places lost despite, or perhaps because of, personal campaign visits by Mr. Obama.

“Every time President Obama came to Ohio, our poll numbers improved and his poll numbers kept dropping,” said John McClelland, a spokesman for the state Republican Party.

Mr. McClelland said that should worry the president as he heads toward a 2012 re-election bid.

“The Democrats publicly called this Obama’s firewall,” he said. “They needed the bully pulpit. They needed someone in the governor’s office here to be a megaphone for the president’s agenda. He no longer has that, so it is going to make his re-election a little bit more difficult.”

In a news conference at the White House on Wednesday, the president acknowledged that he has been trapped in Washington and feels he’s lost the magic connection he had with voters two years ago.

“When you’re in this place, it is hard not to seem removed,” he said. “One of the challenges that we’ve got to think about is how do I meet my responsibilities here in the White House, which require a lot of hours and a lot of work, but still have that opportunity to engage with the American people on a day-to-day basis, and give them confidence that I’m listening to them.”

One Democratic strategist said Tuesday’s elections exposed the trouble his party is having trying to connect with its urban base and with the key suburban swing voters needed for a winning coalition.

“We saw that everywhere in the country. Elections are decided in the suburbs and the exurbs, and over the last two years we stopped talking to those people,” said the strategist, who asked not to be named.

Still, he said, Democrats shouldn’t panic.

“We should not overstate the Republican surge. Looking at the number of races that were close last night, we are a 50-50 country, and that hasn’t changed since President Bush. We were a 50-50 country then, we are a 50-50 country now.”

One bright spot on the map for Mr. Obama was North Carolina, one of the other states that swung for him in 2008. Democrats held on to seven of their eight House seats — though Republican Richard M. Burr easily held on to his Senate seat.

Mr. Obama faced tough losses in Pennsylvania, where Democrats held a massive voter registration edge and had a series of electoral successes this decade.

Republicans won the Senate seat held by Arlen Specter, the Republican turned Democrat who gave in to pressure to flee the GOP after he supported the president’s stimulus plan. The GOP also picked up five congressional seats in the state, including two in the all-important Philadelphia suburbs.

Christopher P. Borick, a professor at Muhlenberg College, said the combination of Mr. Obama’s low approval ratings, the unpopularity of the health care act and a GOP economic message that hit home with suburban voters helped propel Republicans to victories in those “swing districts.”

“If you look at the Philadelphia suburbs, you could not draw up a better area to describe as fiscally conservative and socially moderate in nature,” Mr. Borick said. “So it is not surprising that in a year where fiscal conservatism was the calling card with the GOP that it would score some success in the outskirts of Philadelphia.”

A similar trend has unfolded in Virginia, possibly jeopardizing Mr. Obama’s chance of repeating a victory there in 2012.

“If the election were held tomorrow, he wouldn’t win Virginia. I think that’s pretty clear from the results of 2009 and 2010,” said Daniel Palazzolo, a political science professor at the University of Richmond.

He said Democrats seem to have lost the suburban swing voters they won two years ago and were counting on to power a lasting political realignment.

The three seats Democrats lost in Virginia ran the gamut. Mr. Perriello established a liberal voting record in his single term in office, while Rep. Glen Nye, another victim of Tuesday’s tidal wave, voted more conservatively during his lone term. Also losing was 14-term Rep. Rick Boucher, who succumbed to repeated attacks for supporting a bill to tackle climate change.

Mr. Palazzolo said it’s not clear whether Mr. Obama’s late-campaign visit helped or hurt Mr. Perriello, though the congressman did run closer than expected to Republican Robert Hurt.

Unlike other states, Mr. Obama did not make any campaign appearances in Indiana. Trevor Foughty, a spokesman for the state Republican Party, said Democrats’ poor showing this week reinforced his belief that Mr. Obama’s win two years ago was “an anomaly” and “we are still a very red state.”

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