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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Foreign Policy Is Wildcard in U.S. Midterm Elections - Democrats Concerned Obama's Perceived Weakness on Foreign Policy Could Hurt Party in November

From The Wall Street Journal:

Foreign policy has catapulted to the center of the U.S. political stage just two months before the 2014 midterm elections, raising fresh questions of whether President Barack Obama's perceived weakness on the issue will hurt his party's electoral chances.

Mr. Obama's approval rating has been at or near record low for months, a concern for many Democrats in the final weeks of the campaign season as presidents with low approval ratings typically see big losses for their parties in midterm elections.

The dynamic put added pressure on Mr. Obama's Wednesday speech detailing his strategy for confronting Islamic State, the militant group also known as ISIS and ISIL. The prime-time speech was designed not just to explain Mr. Obama's goals but also to reclaim the mantle of authority after months of being buffeted by world events.

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that the drop in confidence in Mr. Obama's oversight of foreign policy has reached into his core supporters. Even among women, a bastion of pro-Obama sentiment, approval of his handling of foreign policy has dropped to 33% from 43% a month ago.

"That's going to be a drag on Democrats, there's no way around that," said William Galston, former aide to President Bill Clinton, who said the midterms are "bound to be something of a referendum on the president."

Addressing the threat from ISIS—made more immediate to the electorate by the videotaped beheadings of American journalists—could be a pivot point that either revives Mr. Obama's beleaguered presidency or reinforces doubts about his leadership.

"It can play both ways," said Peter Fenn, a Democratic political consultant. "Right now Democrats are in tough shape to hold the Senate, and the events of the next seven weeks could be quite important. This could be the defining moment."

The GOP needs a net gain of six seats to take control of the Senate.

Republicans are trying to use the opportunity to bolster their broad critiques of Mr. Obama and to tie Democrats to him, a theme that already was a central part of their campaign strategy. They say the president has underestimated the militant group and moved too hesitantly to confront it.

Some Republicans treated Mr. Obama's speech as a belated response, and were sparing with praise. "A speech is not the same thing as a strategy," said House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio).

Mr. Obama has struggled in his second term to advance his domestic agenda, from raising the minimum wage to overhauling immigration laws. Voters also appear to be losing confidence in the president's party on issues where Democrats once enjoyed a clear advantage, such as the economy.

As of late July, a study found that international affairs went almost unmentioned in the campaign ads of the eight most competitive Senate races. Since then, foreign policy has commanded more attention as Islamic militants rapidly advanced from Syria into northern Iraq, and especially after the two videotaped beheadings.

Against that backdrop, Mr. Obama came under fire for playing golf immediately after speaking about one journalist's death, and for saying recently that "we don't have a strategy yet" for responding to ISIS. Fellow Democrats cringed at those episodes and many were relieved when the White House scheduled Wednesday's speech.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who is in a tough re-election race in Kentucky, aired an ad that featured a clip of Mr. Obama saying "we don't have a strategy yet." Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster for Mr. McConnell's opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, said the message wouldn't resonate because the senator's own foreign-policy record, including supporting the war in Iraq, has little voter appeal.

In New Hampshire, GOP Senate candidate Scott Brown has tried to link his opponent, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, with the administration's foreign policy. As Vice President Joe Biden visited the state, Mr. Brown's campaign posted a web ad depicting militant violence and dubbing the Obama-Biden foreign policy a "failure." Ms. Shaheen has focused her campaign on her long-standing ties to the state and work on local issues.

New Hampshire is the home state of one of the beheading victims. Mr. Brown has said he is open to deploying ground troops in the fight against ISIS; Ms. Shaheen has stopped short of that, but in a Concord Monitor article Wednesday, she called on Mr. Obama to "implement a strategy to defeat and dismantle the Islamic State immediately."

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