Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON - On Nov. 4, Americans will vote in the midterm elections that for all intents and purposes will be a referendum on Barack Obama's unpopular presidency.

Obama's name won't be on the ballot, but he will be on the minds of many if not most voters when they go into the voting booths to decide who'll be in charge of Congress for the next two years.

A lot can happen between now and then, but a growing number of top political analysts who've studied the polls in key Senate races think Obama's deepening unpopularity may end the Democrats' control of the Senate.

"If the 2014 election is a referendum on President Obama, Democrats are in deep trouble," warns election handicapper Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post.

The Republicans need just six seats to take over the Senate, and surveys by the Gallup Poll last year showed that Obama's disapproval numbers were over 50 percent in 10 of the 21 seats held by Democrats that are now up for grabs in November.

Obama is most unpopular in five battleground states that could move the GOP to within one seat of a Senate majority.

They are West Virginia, with 67.3 percent disapproval; Arkansas,

57 percent; South Dakota, 59.3 percent; Alaska, 55.4 percent; and Montana, 60.9 percent.

Democrats in three of these states -- South Dakota, West Virginia and Montana -- have chosen not to seek re-election, giving Republicans a strong chance of capturing these open seats.

In two of them, Democrats are scrambling to distance themselves from Obama by criticizing his timid, small bore agenda on the nation's most critical economic troubles.

"Overall, I'm disappointed with the president's State of the Union address because he was heavy on rhetoric but light on specifics about how we can move our country forward," said Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas.

Alaska Sen. Mark Begich expressed misgivings about Obama's go-it- alone plan to implement his agenda through unilateral executive orders. As for any political help from the president in the fall, Begich flatly said, "I'm not really interested in campaigning" with him.

Obama's disapproval scores were running between 50 percent and

55 percent in five other states that the GOP is also targeting:

Louisiana, North Carolina, Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire. So the Republicans have a large number of chances to reach their takeover threshold.

While it is a long stretch between now and Election Day when the political and economic climate could change, the early signs suggest that this will continue to be a year of volatility and turbulence in our economy.

The sluggish Obama economy added only 74,000 jobs in December, far below the 200,000 forecasters predicted. Key employment sectors saw big job losses: 16,000 in the construction industry, 6,000 lost in health care. Economists were shocked.

"What it does say is that we're not in a takeoff mode in the labor market... We're treading water," Julia Coronado, chief U.S.

economist at BNP Paribas, told The New York Times.

Obama praised manufacturing growth in his politically combative State of the Union address last week in which he predicted 2014 would be a "breakout year." But recent economic data tells a much different story.

Durable goods orders plunged precipitously in the month of December, as did a measurement of future business spending on capital goods. Top economists had expected the monthly manufacturing gauge to rise.

Then came another economic body blow this week when the Institute for Supply Management announced its index of national factory activity dropped to its lowest level since last May. That, plus a slowdown in construction spending and other global factors, sent stock markets into a nose dive, with the Dow plunging 326 points on Monday.

"U.S. manufacturing activity slowed sharply in January on the back of the biggest drop in new orders in years, suggesting the economy had lost steam at the start of 2014," Reuters economic news service reported.

So what does Obama do in the face of these dreadful economic signals, which suggest that the U.S. economy is not running on all cylinders and remains disturbingly weak in the sixth year of his presidency?

He goes before Congress to claim that we are doing a lot better, and that a few thimble-sized, policy adjustments are all that's needed to revitalize the economy.

One of them was raising the minimum wage. "It will give businesses customers with more money to spend," he said.

The Gallup Poll ran this idea by the American people last week in a survey to see what they thought of Obama's latest economic proposals. It didn't pass their smell test.

"Relatively few Americans mention the minimum wage as the best way to fix the U.S. economy, instead focusing on job creation and tax cuts," Gallup said.

Well, Gallup's polltakers asked, what did you think when Obama's said, "If we are serious about economic growth, it is time to... fix our broken immigration system."

Gallup found that immigration is a relatively low-priority for Americans. Only "three percent name immigration as the most important problem facing the nation."

Obamacare also won a thumbs down in the poll. Only 38 percent said they they approved of the law, while 54 percent said "it will have a more negative effect on them and on the country in the future."

Obama mentioned his unpopular health care plan only briefly in his speech to Congress, a clear sign the White House fears its negative impact in this election year.

A little-noticed but politically important Gallup survey said Republicans have made "slight gains" in party preference polls in the past year, with three more states now in the GOP's column than in 2012.

It "reflects a gradual shrinking of the Democrats' dominance since 2008, the year Barack Obama first won the presidency," Gallup said.

A few more dismal reports like last week, showing the economy is slowing to a crawl and the jobless rate is rising again, and the voters are going to demote Nevada's Harry Reid to Senate minority leader.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.



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