Loyalty to Obama Costs Democrats
Live by the president and you could die by the president. Democrats who have been thorns in the president's side are doing well in some of the toughest districts for their party, from Alabama to the steel belt of western Pennsylvania. But swing-district Democrats who have voted with the president in Congress are struggling, even if they're now asserting their independence.
In Democratic caucus meetings throughout 2009 and this year, White House senior adviser David Axelrod repeatedly made the case that wavering Democrats would be tarred by Republicans with the president's agenda whether they liked it or not. So, he argued, they might as well vote with the White House.
But resistance to the agenda is rewarding some House Democrats as the midterm elections approach.
The pattern of opponents of the Obama agenda doing better than supporters in conservative and swing districts shows up mainly in races for the House, not the Senate. With Republicans uniformly opposing the president's major initiatives, no Democratic senators were free to vote against them. In addition, Senate candidates face statewide constituencies whose political leanings are more diverse than those of some House districts.
It is too early to say how these races will finish, cautioned Nathan Gonzalez, a House political analyst at the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report. Some polls are suspect, he said, and some leads taken by conservative Democrats will tighten as their Republican challengers gain name recognition. But as a political strategy, he added, "These numbers seem to support independence rather than an embrace of the president's agenda."