Magazine article Politics Magazine

Can Democrats Win without Obama on the Ballot?

Magazine article Politics Magazine

Can Democrats Win without Obama on the Ballot?

Article excerpt

Heading into the midterms, Democratic campaigns have at least one problem: Barack Obama is in the White House, not on the ticket.

If the 2009 gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey taught us anything, it is that there is a set of Obama voters who aren't turning out for anyone but him. They are young, minority voters with little history of voting in other cycles. Former Gov. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) devoted significant time and resources to get these same voters to the polls to reelect him in 2009--Obama even made a handful of appearances--but was unsuccessful. Virginia's Democratic nominee, Creigh Deeds, suffered the same fate.

Even though one election, particularly an off-year election like 2009, does not a trend make, strategists on both sides of the aisle are busy rapidly characterizing this voting bloc. Whether you call them "Obama independents" or "Obama surge voters," the Democrats' electoral chances for the next few cycles appear to be closely linked to the group.

"Democrats and pundits looked at Obama surge voters and thought they were Democrats, but they were lazy Democrats," says Liz Chadderdon, a Virginia Democratic strategist. "I'm not so sure they are Democrats. They don't give a rat's ass who controls the Senate. They are not litmus test voters. They don't look at abortion rights. They don't look at gay marriage. They don't look at taxes. They don't look at guns. They are not those types of voters."

If this holds true, Obama's personal political appeal might be best compared to Ronald Reagan's. Much like Reagan, Obama's surge voters appear to be motivated by their affection for the candidate. As Reagan made Americans feel good about themselves, Obama gave them hope--two powerful messages that got voters to the polls. Unlike Reagan, who was bolstered by party-switching Reagan Democrats, Obama was pushed into office by a class of voter that simply doesn't exist for most politicians.

Because of the president's track record of getting out the vote for himself, there remains an underlying sense of optimism among Democrats that is fueled by a single thought: Let's just get to 2012. Another seat-filling Obama campaign, the thinking goes, will help Democrats recoup Senate and House losses suffered in 2010. …

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