WASHINGTON - Six months before the midterm elections, President Obama is facing severe Democratic losses that threaten to imperil the next two years of his term and his chances of re-election.
The list of vulnerable Democratic House and Senate seats lengthens almost weekly as the country grows increasingly angry, and political polls show Republican challengers widening their leads in key races.
The most stunning examples of the Democratic Party's unraveling can be found in the contests for President Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden's former Senate seats in Illinois and Delaware -- two of the bluest states in the country.
Biden's seat is going to be filled by Republican Rep. Mike Castle, and Obama's seat, considered a toss-up at best, was moved into the "leaning Republican" column this week by the Cook Political Report, which closely tracks congressional elections.
The Senate race in Obama's home state has turned into a particularly embarrassing situation for the president. The Democratic nominee is State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, whose family-owned bank has been brought down by financial scandal (including loans to mob figures), and last week was seized and sold by the FDIC.
Republican Rep. Mark Kirk, a centrist with strong crossover appeal, is considered a virtual shoo-in by many observers.
Right now, Republicans are looking at a potential gain of seven seats in the Senate, including Illinois, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Colorado, Arkansas and North Dakota.
And some veteran handicappers do not dismiss the possibility the GOP could win control of the Senate with a party switch.
"As the midterms approach and substantial GOP Senate gains seem inevitable, more attention will fall on Connecticut's soon-to-be senior senator, Joe Lieberman," writes election tracker Stuart Rothenberg in his Rothenberg Political Report. Lieberman could be the key GOP target to change parties.
And if the GOP were to net nine seats, "and it's still a long shot -- Lieberman would become either the Democrats' 50th vote or the Republicans' 51st for organizing the Senate," Rothenberg says.In the House, Republicans could pick up 25 to 30 seats -- and GOP strategists do not rule out the possibility of a net gain of 40 and control of the chamber.
Charlie Cook is telling reporters that the Democrats are about to be swamped by a "classic wave election" that shows no sign of weakening.
"It would take something very significant to change the trajectory of this election" when the Democrats could potentially suffer "very large" losses, he told The Washington Post.
If you are looking for the reasons for the Democrats' sudden reversal of fortunes, read the 138-page polling report released earlier this month by the Pew Research Center. The title says it all: "The People and Their Government: Distrust, Discontent, Anger and Partisan Rancor." Among its chief findings:
-- 65 percent of voters say that Congress is having a negative effect on the country;
-- 47 percent express their fears that the government now endangers their Constitutional rights and freedoms;
-- Only 43 percent (a record low) want to see their representative in Congress returned to office in November.
To put its findings into sharper context, Pew notes that some three months before Democrats lost their House and Senate majorities in 1994, Congress had a job-approval score of 53 percent. The month before the GOP lost both houses of Congress in 2006, only 41 percent expressed a favorable view of Congress.
Pew's polling earlier this month found that Congress' approval rating has sunk to 25 percent.
"Midterm elections are all about the party in power, particularly when that party controls the White House and both chambers of Congress," Cook said last week in a National Journal analysis.
It will use Obama heavily to rally his party, and include a major state-by-state campaign to energize blacks, Latinos and women. The decision to make immigration reform the next legislative priority is part of its strategy to re-energize Hispanic voters.
But voter turnout tends to fall in midterm elections, especially among minority groups, and that will likely be the case in November.
"Democrats should be extremely worried about the fact that midterm electorates are almost always older and whiter -- meaning, more Republican -- than the electorate in presidential contests. And this year, Republicans are showing much greater intensity and enthusiasm than Democrats," says Cook.
And with good reason. Fifteen million Americans are unemployed. The government will add more than $1 trillion a year to its debts. Spending is out of control. And taxes will go up at the end of this year.
This isn't a good time to be a Democrat, Cook says, as midterm voters could "make them bear the brunt of the blame for everything that the people think is wrong with the country."