LAMBRO: An economic breakdown during Obama’s ‘breakout year’

President’s unpopularity could cost Democrats the Senate

On Nov. 4, Americans will vote in the midterm elections that, for all intents and purposes, will be a referendum on Barack Obama’s unpopular presidency.

President Obama’s name won’t be on the ballot, but he will be on the minds of many if not most voters when they go into the voting booths to decide who will be in charge of Congress for the next two years.

A lot can happen between now and then, but a growing number of top political analysts who have studied the polls in key Senate races think Mr. Obama’s deepening unpopularity may end the Democrats’ control of the Senate.

“If the 2014 election is a referendum on President Obama, Democrats are in deep trouble,” warns election handicapper Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post.

The Republicans need just six seats to take over the Senate, and surveys by the Gallup Poll last year showed that Mr. Obama’s disapproval numbers were above 50 percent in 10 of the 21 states where seats held by Democrats are up for grabs in November.

Mr. Obama is most unpopular in five battleground states that could move the GOP to within one seat of a Senate majority. They are West Virginia, with 67.3 percent disapproval; Arkansas, 57 percent; South Dakota, 59.3 percent; Alaska, 55.4 percent; and Montana, 60.9 percent.

Democrats in three of these states — South Dakota, West Virginia and Montana — have chosen not to seek re-election, giving Republicans a strong chance of capturing those open seats.

In two of them, Democrats are scrambling to distance themselves from Mr. Obama by criticizing his timid, small-bore agenda on the nation’s most critical economic troubles.

“Overall, I’m disappointed with the president’s State of the Union address because he was heavy on rhetoric, but light on specifics about how we can move our country forward,” said Sen. Mark L. Pryor of Arkansas.

Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska expressed misgivings about Mr. Obama’s go-it-alone plan to implement his agenda through unilateral executive orders.

As for any political help from the president in the fall, Mr. Begich flatly said, “I’m not really interested in campaigning” with him.

Mr. Obama’s disapproval scores were running between 50 percent and 55 percent in five other states that the GOP is also targeting: Louisiana, North Carolina, Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire. The Republicans have a large number of chances to reach their takeover threshold.

While there is a long stretch during which the political and economic climate could change between now and Election Day, the early signs suggest that this will continue to be a year of volatility and turbulence in our economy.

The sluggish Obama economy added only 74,000 jobs in December, far below the 200,000 forecasters predicted. Key employment sectors saw big job losses — 16,000 in the construction industry and 6,000 lost in health care. Economists were shocked.

Mr. Obama praised manufacturing growth last week in his politically combative State of the Union address, in which he predicted 2014 would be a “breakout year.” However, recent economic data tells a much different story.

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