Monday March 4, 2013
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For the next 1,418 days the top issue on the mind of President Barack Obama and his ever-tightening inner circle will involve the six letters: L.E.G.A.C.Y.
Just as years three and four were totally focused on the President's re-election; so the last two years of his second term will be focused on the legacy he leaves behind.
Will it be Jimmy Carter's well-intentioned ineptness? Or FDR's history changing vision?
One thing is for sure: Unless the Democrats win control of the House and maintain control of the Senate Obama's legacy will be an eight-letter word: Gridlock.
In an important piece on the front page of Sunday's Washington Post, reporters Scott Wilson and Philip Rucker, examined this very subject writing that flipping the House would allow
"Obama to push forward with a progressive agenda on gun control, immigration, climate change and the economy."
"Progressive" is Washington-speak for "Liberal."
Here's the problem for the all the President's men, and women: In a year when Obama cruised to a pretty easy victory and the GOP-led House had an approval rating of about 12 percent in November, Democrats could manage to pick-up only eight net seats.
Notwithstanding all the hundreds of millions of dollars they will spend, all the micro-targeting they will conduct, all the iPad-fueled ID & turnout operations they will run, and all Jedi Mind melding with Obama they will attempt; he needs more than double that - 17 seats - to take control of the House in the 2014 elections.
You know the history of sixth-year midterm elections: Except for 1998 (Clinton's six-year midterm) the party of the President has always lost seats.
In addition to a wretched election strategy (in which I, as executive director of GOPAC then, share no small blame) Clinton was sitting on a 65 percent approval rating and Speaker Newt Gingrich was underwater with a 42 percent positive and 49 percent negative approval.
As of Friday's three-day tracking poll results, Gallup had Obama's approval-disapproval much closer to Gingrich's than Clinton's: 46 - 46.
Republicans in the House will have had two more years to make themselves popular in districts that were redrawn after the 2010 census and in which they first ran - in some cases as relative newcomers - in 2012.
The Obama team can't just keep throwing uppercuts at the Congress for the next 20 months leading up to the November 2014 midterms. The Congress is already sitting on a 14.7 percent approval (77 percent disapproval), so there's not much farther down they can go.
Outside the Beltway, the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and Malibu Beach most voters don't differentiate between Rs and Ds as to who runs what on Capitol Hill - so the Obama team convincing people to "throw the bums out" might include a bunch of Democratic babies along with the Republican bathwater.
The biggest danger to the Obama L.E.G.A.C.Y. isn't how many tax loopholes get closed or how familiar we become with the term "Chained CPI," but whether the Obama campaign's focus on the midterm elections become the pivot point.
The Obama White House has set a pretty high bar: Taking control of the House.
Part of the White House calculus has to be what is the downside risk to failing to take control on November 4, 2014.
Can they reset the test from "control" (plus 17) to "equal or better to Clinton" (plus 5)?
And then there is that pesky U.S. Senate. According to the University of Virginia's Professor Larry Sabato
"Of the 33 seats that will be contested in November 2014, Republicans only have to defend 13 while Democrats have to defend 20."
Further, Dr. Sabato points out that that 12 of 13 seats the GOP has to defend are in heavily Republican states - states in which Obama got an average of 45.5% of the popular vote - so the chances of Democratic pickups are slim.
He warns that, in the 2012 cycle the GOP thought they had a great chance to take control of the Senate but due to a number of reasons - dreadful candidates among them - not only did the Senate not change hands, but the Democrats expanded their majority.
These are just the technical aspects of the midterm elections. Obama has three senior officials - VP Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel who, on any given day, are capable of saying something that will derail all the President's carefully laid plans.
On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the WaPo piece, to a handy chart of wins and losses in Presidential midterms, and to Larry Sabato's latest column.
Also a nostalgic Mullfoto - for those of a certain age - harking back to a car style of long ago.
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