Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- For months now, Democratic prospects in the midterm elections have been sinking faster than the latest plunge in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

But the Democrats' political illness grew even worse in the past week, if that's possible, as President Obama's disapproval polls fell into the low 40s and the economy showed further signs of weakening, raising fears of a double-dip recession.

With the Obama economy sharply braking to a snail's pace 2.4 percent growth rate, the Fed predicting slower growth in the months to come, new jobless claims signaling higher unemployment, and home repossessions up 9 percent last month, the chances of the Democrats holding onto any majority in Congress appear dimmer than ever.

Now, it is not only vulnerable Democrats running in swing states who are endangered but entrenched liberal lawmakers in heavily Democratic states who are struggling against political newcomers and neophyte challengers.

Exhibit A is Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, a liberal big-spender who was considered a safe bet to win re-election a few months ago. No longer.

Four weeks ago, Cook Political Report elections analyst Jennifer Duffy moved Feingold from the Solid Democratic column to Lean Democratic. More recently, she put the Senate race into the "tossup" column.

Two factors led the respected elections tracker to her decision. Combined voter surveys showed the race tied at 43 percent, according to the Pollster.com trend line. And Feingold's challenger, low-key businessman Ron Johnson, running as an outsider who has created jobs in real life, isn't a career politician. Duffy says that "his profile as a successful businessman who is involved in his local community coupled with his own frustration with what he sees going on in Washington and his willingness to put his life on hold in an effort to change it has resonated with voters. There is a sincerity about him that is likely to appeal to voters."

But it is clear that right now the mood of Wisconsin's voters has turned decidedly against Feingold, who voted for the wasteful $800 billion stimulus bill and the unpopular healthcare-reform law. He has been unable to draw more than 46 percent support in any poll.

Or take a look at the rapidly changing mood in Ohio, a state that shifted strongly into the Democratic column over the last decade, but is now turning sharply in the GOP's direction after years of suffering one of the worst economies in the country. The unemployment rate is 10.5 percent, with no rebound in sight.

In the race for governor, Republican John Kasich -- running on fixing the economy -- now leads Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland by 48 percent to 39 percent among likely voters.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.