Opinion

We already know the loser of the election: Obama’s agenda

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Brad Todd
Founding Partner, OnMessage Inc.
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      Brad Todd

      Brad Todd is a Republican campaign message and advertising strategist. In 2010, his firm On Message Inc. advised Sen. Ron Jonson (R-WI), Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL), the National Republican Congressional Committee and 9 Republican candidates who took over Democratic congressional seats. The opinions expressed here are his own.

We don’t know yet who our next president will be, but we do know the loser of this Tuesday’s election already.

The loser is Barack Obama’s agenda.

Barack Obama, the man, may eke out re-election, but the policies he has pursued over the last four years could cause his party to lose seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Obama’s agenda has been so toxic that his signature pieces of legislation — the stimulus, the Affordable Care Act and the cap-and-trade regimen — have scarcely appeared in television ads for Democratic incumbents in tough races, unless they were bragging about their opposition to them.

Among four dozen target-seat Democrats, only Rep. David Cicilline has made his support for Obama’s policies a focal point of his campaign — and his race is in deep blue Rhode Island.

Democrat avoidance of Obama’s policies was the norm even in other blue states, as the core House battlefield included seven seats in California, five seats in Illinois, four others in New England and five districts in New York.

That’s evidence we are heading for a House election without coattails for Obama. Instead he might just get the rebuke of a net increase in Republican-held seats.

Democrats began the year with high hopes and hot spin they would reclaim a majority in the U.S. House. They boasted the Republican freshman class was full of right-wing, “accidental” congressmen swept into office on a Tea Party wave. They noted that 57 Republicans sat in districts Obama had carried in 2008 — more than twice the number of take-overs Democrats would need to get a majority.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised ample money — collecting $151 million to keep pace with the National Republican Congressional Committee. They juiced up their outside groups, generating $35 million in television ads alone from unions and union-backed groups.

But the Democratic House campaign ran into an impenetrable roadblock that money and spin could not fix: the unpopularity of Obama’s first-term policies.

The NRCC, the campaign arm of House Republicans, asked voters in the late summer in 18 toss-up districts about the impact of Obama’s policies. An average of 43% said they’d made the economy worse while only 31% said they’d made it better. In 43 districts where voters were asked if they supported or opposed the Affordable Care Act, they responded in the negative by an average margin of 50%-44%.

As the fall campaigns heated up, Republicans used President Obama and his policies as a foil in advertisements in even the bluest districts. The failed 2009 stimulus, or “Recovery Act,” as Democrats ironically call it, was consistently the single most attractive vulnerability in polls testing messages against Democrats. It became the weapon of choice for Republican attack ads all season long.