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Obama Looms as Major Issue in November Congressional Elections

In a little more than six months, U.S. voters will go to the polls in mid-term congressional elections that will likely have a major impact on President Barack Obama and his agenda.

Both parties are intensifying their fundraising and campaign efforts in advance of the November elections, and President Obama sent out a video to campaign supporters reminding them of their victorious campaign effort two years ago.

"It will be up to each of you to make sure that the young people, African-Americans, Latinos and women who powered our victory in 2008 stand together once again," said Mr. Obama.

Most political experts believe Republicans will have an easier time than Democrats in motivating their core supporters this year.

Even passage of health-care reform, the president's top domestic priority, has done little to help his standing in the polls, says Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown.

"They had expected that when that passed and was signed into law there would be what is called 'the winner effect', and that people would rally around the president and that his job approval numbers would increase," said Brown. "In fact they did not. They stayed the same. They are not terrible, they are not great."

Mr. Obama's approval rating hovers around 50 percent or just below in most recent polls. Public-opinion surveys show most Americans continue to find the president likeable, even if they do not agree with his policies.

Historically, a president's public approval rating can have an impact on mid-term congressional elections. During the past 50 years, the party holding the White House has almost always lost seats in mid-term elections when the president's approval rating dips below 50 percent.

Pollster Peter Brown says the real problem for Democrats is the dismal poll ratings for Congress, which are far worse than those for the president. And since Democrats hold majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives, they stand to lose seats in November.

"Only one in five voters approve of what Congress is doing. That is a pretty small number. So that unhappiness with what is going on in Congress is perhaps at its height," added Brown. "Even those who liked the health-care overhaul package, many if not most of them did not like the way Congress did it."

The most significant weakness for Democrats and their election prospects at the moment is the economy and high unemployment rate. Although there are signs that the economy is slowly improving, the lack of job growth is likely to hurt Democrats in November, says David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report.

"Democrats are likely to suffer losses in this year's midterms because the unemployment situation is what drives voter attitudes towards the party in power," said Wasserman.

Republicans are also benefitting from the activities of the Tea Party movement, grassroots conservative activists who are mobilizing against the president and his Democratic supporters in Congress.

Former Republican Congressman Dick Armey of Texas, who has encouraged the Tea Party phenomenon, expects the movement to play a pivotal role in mobilizing voters in November to vote against Democrats.

"So they are, in a great sense right now more than they have ever been before that great big swing vote out there," said Armey. "And right now they have a clear understanding who they are swinging against. They are swinging against the Democrats."

Most analysts believe the Tea Party supporters will end up voting for conservative Republican candidates in November.

Armey says the pressure will be on Republican congressional candidates to prove to Tea Party followers that they are true conservatives.

"But they have not yet found themselves comfortably able to say, yes and I am swinging for these guys, because they are still waiting for the Republicans to show that they are not the Republicans that just broke our heart a few years ago, and the Republican Party has got to find a way to convince them that they are reliable adults," he added.

Polls show most Republicans and independent voters oppose the president's economic agenda, largely because they think it is too expensive and will add to the budget deficit.

Historically, the party that controls the White House loses congressional seats in a new president's first midterm election. While Democrats acknowledge Republicans are likely to pick up seats in November, they argue that an improving economy over the next two years should help President Obama's re-election hopes in 2012.