Republicans hope Obama’s underwater ratings can net them the Senate

RealClearPolitics’ Sean Trende assesses this fall’s U.S. Senate races and concludes that the GOP is being underestimated. Based on 2010 and 2012 election data, Trende writes, “Senate races begin to converge on presidential approval, doubtless a function of the much-remarked-upon polarization of our polity.”

The RCP aggregate poll now has President Barack Obama with an approval rating of 43 percent and disapproval at 52 percent. He’s been underwater since last June. (He didn’t erase the deficit during the federal government shutdown in October that was supposed to boomerang on the obstructionist Republicans and cost them the House of Representatives.)

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Trend summarizes the Senate elections from nine months out:

This is how most journalists seem to see the races right now: A few contests that are largely unwinnable by Democrats, some where they are in trouble but can win, and a bunch of others where Republicans might be able to win under the correct circumstances. This is the conventional wisdom that solidified in the spring of last year. It was the correct analysis at the time, when the president was at 50 percent.

But over the course of the summer, his job approval numbers slid into the mid-40s. The conventional wisdom didn’t follow. Given that movement, we would expect to see races in Colorado, New Hampshire, Virginia and Iowa become competitive, while Democrats in races in Michigan and Minnesota would start looking shaky. Individual polling started to suggest this, although it was largely dismissed.

With the movement of the president’s job approval numbers into the low 40s, the Democrats’ Senate odds would deteriorate considerably. Things should look dire for Democrats in the three open seats in red states, as well as for the four “red state” Democratic incumbents (Mark Pryor [Arkansas], Kay Hagan [North Carolina], Mary Landrieu [Louisiana], and Mark Begich [Alaska]). Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado and Virginia should look pretty rough, and Oregon, Michigan and Minnesota could be truly competitive.

We’ll see whether Obama’s approval ratings have lost their buoyancy for good. Republicans still hope that negative reaction to the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) can carry them through November even as various “scandals” fail to catch on. (See David Weigel on Republican Rep. Darrell Issa’s search for an impeachable offense.) The latest strategy to keep voters face-palming over Obamacare is the charge that it’s a “bailout” for insurance companies. The charge refers to a provision of the law that, essentially, reimburses ACA-participating insurance companies if their revenue from premiums doesn’t cover their claim payments. In other words, the ACA provides a safety net to insurers so that they won’t lose money by offering affordable policies.

TPM’s Sahil Kapur explains the political strategy behind attacking this provision of the law:

The conservatives are open about the end goal: collapse Obamacare by causing higher premiums on the law’s marketplaces for the newly insured, which progressive experts who support Obamacare agree may occur if the provision is scrapped.

[Bloomberg View columnist Ramesh] Ponnuru, labeling the risk corridors “outrageous,” writes that without them insurance companies “would have to raise premiums and thus make their plans even more unattractive than they already are — or just withdraw from the exchanges. Obamacare would, in other words, become even less likely to succeed than it already is.”

Attacking insurance companies is a pretty clever gambit for Republicans, but Weigel says that this attempted sabotage of the ACA is reminiscent of a villain in a James Bond film. (“They explain the plot while they're still time for 007 to stop it.”)

Meanwhile, The Week’s Jon Terbush takes the opposite view from RealClearPolitics’ Trende and writes that the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid could be a boon for Democratic candidates this fall: “That's a perfect 2014 Democratic ad campaign right there: People are happy now that they're covered by Medicaid, and Republicans want to take it away.”

I’m not sure that new Medicaid recipients will make a huge difference. For all the anecdotes of rural white voters cursing Obama while signing up for health care, low-income voters already leaned toward Democrats, and they won’t save the party if middle-class suburbanites (mostly insured by their employers) turn against the party.

Photo of President Barack Obama from Catholic News Service.

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