EDITORIAL: Endangered Democrats racing to the exits

Incumbents are beginning to run away from President Obama

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President Obama continues to fall in the polls, to a new low as measured by The Wall Street Journal/NBC News. Whether for his foreign or domestic performance, the public judges the president harshly. He has fallen so far, to 41 percent approval in this latest poll, that loyal Democrats are having unhappy thoughts.

Dan Pfeiffer, a White House senior adviser, is one of the few still saying that none of the bad news is true, that everyone loves Mr. Obama and he’ll prove it by sending the president to campaign for vulnerable Democrats in the fall. He’ll be “an asset in every way possible.”

That’s just the sort of thing Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s chief strategist, said eight years ago just before a disastrous midterm election. Democrats picked up 31 seats in the House and six in the Senate.

In the fall of 2006 Republican candidates begged President Bush to stay away from them. Ignoring the warnings, Mr. Rove bluntly told Republican candidates coast to coast that Mr. Bush was coming and he had better be welcome.

Mr. Bush flew from district to district, state to state, and everyone he “helped” began to slip in the public-opinion polls. Most of them lost.

Mr. Rove demonstrated that the president could indeed campaign where, when and for whom he wanted, but he should have gone to the ranch and cleared brush. Now another president is as unpopular as Mr. Bush was then, with Gallup measuring his approval ratings in the same low 40s.

The White House is always a hothouse, regardless of the president, and those who work there live in a world apart from the rest of us. The consequences for Mr. Obama’s party are likely to be similar to those for the Republicans in that distant year.

Mr. Pfeiffer says the senators in trouble this year wouldn’t be in the Senate if they hadn’t attached themselves to Mr. Obama’s coattails in 2008. He expected them to be grateful, and if they’re not re-elected they shouldn’t blame the president.

If he believes that, the president will learn what every candidate eventually hears from his constituents: “It’s not what you’ve done for me, it’s what have you done for me lately.”

With his popularity tanking, Mr. Obama holds tight to his left-wing base. The coveted independents, who are often the margin of victory or defeat, have deserted him.

Candidates who might campaign with the president remember what happened to Charlie Crist in Florida four years ago. He was doing all right in a race for the U.S. Senate until he was photographed hugging Mr. Obama. He lost. This year he’s running for governor, and he still says he loves the president. He’s not doing so well this year, either.

Mr. Crist, like Dan Pfeiffer, is one of the very few Democrats foolish enough to shower this president with praise. Many are pretending they never met him. Robert Gibbs, the former White House press secretary, has an explanation for Mr. Pfeiffer’s fantasy.

“Honesty,” he told an NBC News interviewer, “can only go so far in Washington when you’re employed.”

Mr. Gibbs agrees with the obvious, that the Democrats are in trouble and that the White House had better realize that the Republicans are poised to reclaim the Senate in November. “If you lose the Senate,” he says, “[We’ll have to] turn out the lights, because the party is over.”

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