Dems Are Facing A Nixon-Like Dilemma

obama1By Brad O’Leary

Investor’s Business Daily


President Obama’s sinking popularity has many Democratic congressional candidates running as fast and as far away from the president and his policies as they can. The health care takeover, cap-and-trade, stimulus spending, gun control … you’ll hear nary a peep about any of these issues, and in some cases Democratic candidates are bad-mouthing them.

But is this a wise strategy, or will it backfire on the Democrats much as it did on the Republicans in 1974?

That year, Republicans running for office at the state and federal level abandoned President Nixon in droves. And though Nixon resigned from office three months before the election, his name was still synonymous with the GOP, and Republican candidates succumbed to the pressure (mostly coming from the media) to distance themselves from him at every opportunity.

How much did Republicans benefit from this strategy? When the dust cleared that November, Democrats picked up 49 U.S. House seats and gained a veto-proof majority in the Senate, and Republicans lost ground in state legislatures and county courthouses in 49 of 50 states. Only Texas saw GOP gains in both state legislative chambers and county courts.

Voter turnout for the ’74 election told the story. Republican turnout dropped 36% from the presidential election two years before. Meanwhile, Democratic turnout only declined 19% in the off-year.

Though a majority of voters nationwide disapproved of Nixon, a strong contingent of Republican voters resented what they saw as a betrayal of their party’s standard-bearer. Voter analysis showed that the Republicans who didn’t turn out were the strong Nixon partisans.

What we see today with the Democrats is very similar. President Obama and his policies are still popular among 40% of Americans nationwide, but more importantly to Democratic candidates, the president’s job approval rating still scores in the 70% range among Democratic voters.

Still, Democratic candidates are fleeing the president, refusing to appear alongside him when he visits their state and airing ads that imply that they’re not on board with his agenda.

What net effect will this have on Election Day? How will the 70% of Democrats who still support the president respond? Will they react the same way Nixon Republicans did in ’74 and stay at home this November?

The answer is yes. Look for Obama partisans — who are bitter about what they perceive to be a premature burial of their standard-bearer — to sit out this election. For all their distancing, the Democrats won’t succeed in gaining a single Republican vote, won’t succeed in gaining any significant support among independents, but might succeed in suppressing their own base.

O’Leary is a veteran political consultant, author, publisher of the O’Leary Report and former NBC Westwood One talk show host.


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