U.S. voters head to the polls next November for congressional midterm elections with enormous political stakes for President Barack Obama. All 435 seats in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will be at stake along with 33 of the 100 seats in the Democratically-controlled Senate. Obama has seen a major dip in his public approval rating of late and if that continues, it could be a major factor in the November elections.
House Speaker John Boehner and his fellow Republicans hope to gain congressional seats in November by focusing on the troubled rollout of Obama’s health care law.
“Why did the president mislead the American people when he promised they could keep their health care plan? Why is Obamacare forcing Americans to lose access to the doctors they like,” said Boehner.
Democrats insist public support for the law will increase over time. But even Obama acknowledges that Democrats are paying a political price in the short term.
“There is no doubt that our failure to roll out the ACA [Affordable Care Act] smoothly has put a burden on Democrats, whether they are running or not, because they stood up and supported this effort through thick and thin,” he said.
The president’s party often lost seats in the second term midterm election and the fate of the health care law would have a major impact on the elections, said analyst John Fortier.
“And I think the uncertainty of what will happen between now and the midterm election is really the biggest factor, uncertainty for the American people, but also for a lot of Democrats who are nervously eyeing the elections themselves and wondering how they are going to be affected,” he said.
Public attitudes toward Congress were dismal in the wake of the government shutdown in October, said Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown.
“The American people are frustrated," he said. "They see what is going on in Washington and scratch their heads and say, ‘Can’t these guys make anything happen?’”
Lawmakers with Tea Party support got much of the blame for the shutdown, and that has sparked a new battle within the Republican Party, said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.
“Many mainstream Republicans are now pointing the finger at the Tea Party as well, not just Democrats," he said. "The Tea Party is on to the right issues. The question is: are they going to change their tactics and their messaging?”
House Speaker Boehner recently lashed out at conservative groups that oppose compromise.
“I think they are misleading their followers. I think they are pushing our members in places where they don’t want to be and frankly I just think that they have lost all credibility,” he said.
Democrats won control of the House in 2006 but Republicans won it back in 2010. No major tide for either party was expected this year, said analyst Rhodes Cook.
“I don’t think we are going to have any big wave election like that in part because we had it, you know, in 2010. Those seats that were ready to topple have toppled," he said. "We are down basically to seats that are on pretty firm ground for the Republicans.”
Republicans are favored to hold their majority in the House and the real battle will be for control of the now-Democratically-held Senate.