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An Albatross or Aid for the Democrats?

James Richardson is a columnist for RedState. Follow James on Twitter.

Drowning in a sense of political deja vu--the fear that burgeoning anti-incumbent sentiment is sweeping the nation in the same devastating fashion as it did in the 1994 midterm elections--one vulnerable Democrat after the next is fleeing to higher ground - preferably ground not occupied by President Barack Obama.

For his part, the President has been assuring wayward Democrats on Capitol Hill the recent losses in Massachusetts, Virginia, and New Jersey hold little implications for the national political landscape. The hope endures and the fight continues, he insists.

According to Representative Marion Berry, who Sunday announced his surprise retirement from Congress after thirteen years in office, Obama is finally laying some personal credibility and political capital on the line in 2010.

The President, in a meeting with White House political brass and Blue Dog Democrats, told Berry the parallels between 1994 and 2010 are overblown and sensational, at best. "The big difference [between] here and in '94 was you've got me," Obama crowed, according to Berry.

Indeed, Democrats have got him, but do they honestly want him? If the loss of the late Senator Ted Kennedy's seat is any indicator of the President's impotency on the campaign trail, Obama may be a greater albatross than aid for Democrats.

Despite appealing to moderates of both parties in 2008, Obama has, in short order, become the most politically divisive figure in American politics. President Obama's job approval index ratings among Democrats and Republicans has reached an all-time high for first-year presidents, according to a new Gallup poll released Monday, which found a 65 percentage-point gap between Democrats and Republicans.

Virtually all Democrats--approximately 88%--approve of President Obama's job performance. Republicans, however, have a considerably less favorably opinion, with only 23% awarding the President a passing grade.

A similar poll conducted in the first year of Bill Clinton's administration found only a 52% spread in approval among Republicans and Democrats; that's 13 points more popular than Obama. And yet Democrats, ultimately handicapped by the nation's disapproval of Clinton, were routed by Republicans and lost control of both chambers of Congress.

Few candidates or consultants dismiss the disadvantage at which Republicans campaign after eight unpopular years of the Bush administration. The GOP's brand is severely damaged, as evidenced by the fact that Republican identification trails that of Democratic and Independent by 9 and 14 points, respectively.

Still, Republicans have edged out Democrats in the generic Congressional ballot, according to poll aggregate Republicans owe their recent surge in the polls not to their brand, or the work of the national party committees, but wholly and inextricably to President Obama's divisive politicking.

The conventional wisdom holds that down-ballot candidates benefit from the activism and enthusiasm presidential campaigns impart. Vulnerable Democrats like Arkansas' Blanche Lincoln or Colorado's Michael Bennet are thanking their lucky stars, however, that Obama name is found no where on the ballot.

As little as Obama's rhetoric has accomplished on the health care front, it will accomplish far less on the stump for Blue Dog Democrats locked in tough reelection battles. As a Republican, I hope nothing more than Democrats to remember they have "got" Obama.

By James Richardson
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