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History Lesson: Midterms Aren't Kind to the Party in the White House

But that's not to dismiss the political problems surrounding Obama and his party heading into next month’s contests.
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The president is a drag on his party in the upcoming midterms. Candidates are distancing themselves from the Oval Office occupant. And the president has lost the magic that propelled him into the White House. Are we talking again about President Obama? Actually, we’re talking about almost every president since World War II, especially those in their sixth year in office -- the so-called “Six-Year Itch.” Consider these headlines over the past three decades:

  • "Campaigner in Chief Has Limited Reach; An Unpopular President Avoids Many Key Races" (Washington Post, 11/1/2006)
  • "US elections Bush factor is proving a negative for voters and candidates along the campaign trail" (The Guardian, 10/17/2006)
  • "Clinton's troubles reemerge as election issue" (The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/2/1998)
  • "Reagan's coattails are frayed, Democrats say" (AP, 11/1/1986)
  • "The Great Communicator Fizzles" (Evans & Novak, 10/31/1986)

This isn’t to dismiss the political problems surrounding Obama and his party heading into next month’s contests. But it is a reminder that the party controlling the White House almost always loses seats in a midterm election. There are two exceptions since World War II -- 1998 (when impeachment backfired against Republicans) and 2002 (after the 9/11 terrorist attacks). And the Senate losses are even bigger in a Six-Year Itch election. Here are the numbers:

Midterms for the Party Controlling the White House since World War II

YEAR HOUSE Gain/Losses SENATE gain/loss

1946 Truman -55 -12

1950 Truman -28 -5

1954 Ike -18 -1

1958 Ike -48 -12

1962 Kennedy -4 2

1966 LBJ -48 -4

1970 Nixon -12 1

1974 Ford -48 -4

1978 Carter -15 -3

1982 Reagan -26 1

1986 Reagan -5 -8

1990 Bush -8 -1

1994 Clinton -54 -8

1998 Clinton 5 0

2002 Bush 8 1

2006 Bush -30 -6

2010 Obama -63 -6

AVG -26.4 -3.8

“Six-Year Itches” for the Party Controlling the White House since World War II

YEAR HOUSE Gain/Losses SENATE gain/loss

1950 Truman -28 -5

1958 Ike -48 -12

1974 Ford -48 -4

1986 Reagan -5 -8

1998 Clinton 5 0

2006 Bush -30 -6

AVG -25.6 -5.8

SOURCE: Vital Statistics on Congress

Meet the Voters: Chuck’s stop in Kansas

Yesterday, Chuck Todd’s bus rolled into Kansas, where he spoke with voters. Here’s Chuck’s takeaway: Kansans are open to firing Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), but they’re not quite sold on what Orman is selling. Here’s also a key exchange from Chuck’s interview with Orman:

TODD: It sounds as if you want Kansas voters to say – look, you may not agree with a lot of my – some of my stances, some of my background, whatever, but I want to be your vehicle to sort of blow up the system there. Is that the goal?ORMAN: Well, we certainly want to change Washington. We certainly want Washington to spend more time focused on solving problems and less time focused on winning elections…

Also in the interview, Orman said he would have voted for the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill; he argued that Obama’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s business practices in 2012 were “unfair”; and he reiterated his call that he won’t support the Democratic Party if Harry Reid is its leader next year, and he won’t back the Republicans if Mitch McConnell is the GOP’s Senate leader. Today, Chuck and crew take the bus to Iowa, where a new Quinnipiac poll shows Joni Ernst with a two-point lead over Bruce Braley, 48%-46%.

What else happened on the trail yesterday

You can tell we’re now less than two weeks away until Election Day, because there are so many developments on the campaign trail. Here’s a sampling from yesterday: The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has decided to re-enter Kentucky’s Senate contest with a $650,000 ad buy; a Chicago Sun-Times reporter who wrote an expose on Illinois gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner (R) resigned from his paper after the Rauner campaign attacked him and his management took him off his beat; and Rudy Giuliani unloaded on Florida gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist (D). (Don’t forget: Crist endorsed McCain over Rudy in the ’08 GOP presidential race.) All of this happened yesterday. Every day is going to feel like a week from now until Nov. 4.

Rocky Mountain polling

Here’s one other thing that happened yesterday: A new USA Today/Suffolk poll showed Cory Gardner leading Mark Udall by seven points (!!!), 46%-39%. Right now, there is no bigger disagreement over where the race is than in Colorado. Democrats insist they’re tied or slightly ahead, and that either 1) the polls are understating the Latino vote, or 2) that the likely voter models are missing less-than-enthusiastic people who are still voting. Even so, it’s notable that a nonpartisan public poll hasn’t shown Udall ahead in a LONG time. That’s never a good place to be, even when you acknowledge that likely-voter polls could be wrong.

Democrats increasingly play the outsourcing card

We’ve noticed that Democrats are turning to a final message against their GOP opponents: outsourcing. It’s not just against Bruce Rauner in Illinois or David Perdue in Georgia. In Tuesday’s debate in New Hampshire, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) hit challenger Scott Brown over outsourcing. Now we’re also seeing Republicans do this – Roberts hitting Orman in Kansas, and Scott Walker using the attack in Wisconsin against Mary Burke. Question for GOP: Does it have a harder time here given that it goes against some policies business Republicans support?

A conflicted public on Iraq and the campaign against ISIS

A Pew poll released on Monday found an American public that’s still conflicted about the campaign against ISIS and the situation in Iraq. According to the poll, a majority of Americans (57%) supporting the campaign against ISIS, but just 30% saying it has a clear goal. And then there’s this: “47% say their greater concern is that the U.S. will go too far getting involved in the situation, while 43% are more concerned that the U.S. will not go far enough in stopping Islamic militants. The share saying their bigger concern is that the U.S. will become too deeply involved in the situation has increased from 41% in mid-September.” This is yet another reminder of how big of an imprint the Iraq war -- which began more than 11 years ago -- has still

Obama’s crisis management: All’s well that ends well?

Meanwhile, Bloomberg Businessweek’s Josh Green is the latest to look at President Obama’s shaky crisis management, whether it was on the BP spill, HealthCare.Gov, and now Ebola. He writes, “Six years in, it’s clear that Obama’s presidency is largely about adhering to intellectual rigor—regardless of the public’s emotional needs. The virtues of this approach are often obscured in a crisis, because Obama disdains the performative aspects of his job. ‘There’s no doubt that there’s a theatrical nature to the presidency that he resists,’ Axelrod says.” But Green also concludes that the administration -- after a shaky start -- usually turns things around. “[H]is record, even on issues where he’s drawn heavy criticism, is often much better than the initial impression would lead one to believe. He may tackle crises in a way that ignores the public mood, yet things generally turn out pretty well in the end. He and his economic team, though deeply unpopular, halted the financial panic and brought about a recovery that’s added jobs for 55 consecutive months. His signature health-care law addressed a slower-moving crisis; while similarly unpopular, it has delivered health insurance to more than 10 million people. Even Deepwater Horizon was nothing like the environmental cataclysm it threatened to become.” But where they have failed is with the theatrics. And in today’s media environment, first impressions are typically the only ones that matter.

Countdown to Election Day: 12 days

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