WASHINGTON - In this U.S. congressional election year, it’s already clear that many Democratic candidates are determined to keep some political distance between themselves and President Barack Obama.
Obama’s public approval rating is stuck at around 40 percent, and many Democrats worry that could undermine their hopes to hold their majority in the Senate this year and prevent losses in the House of Representatives.
The president’s challenges abroad have grown in recent days, including violence in the Mideast and Iraq and an immigration crisis along the southern U.S. border.
But even as the immigration crisis dominates domestic headlines, the president has been squarely focused on the economy and trying to circumvent Republican attempts to block his agenda in Congress.
During a recent visit to Texas, Obama repeated his vow that he will take action where he can to break Washington’s political gridlock.
“Whenever and wherever I have the power, the legal authority to help families like yours, even if Congress is not doing anything, I will take that opportunity. I will try to make something happen," he said.
The president has also been dismissive of House Republican plans to sue him in federal court over his use of executive authority on a range of issues.
“You hear some of them: 'Sue him! Impeach him,' he said. "Really? Really? For what? You are going to sue me for doing my job?”
On the immigration issue, Republicans blame the president for not doing more to secure the southern U.S. border, including House Speaker John Boehner.
“This is a problem of the president’s own making! He’s been president for five-and-one-half years," he said. "When is he going to take responsibility for something?”
The president is also getting pressure from his political left and liberal Democrats like Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois who want to ensure that young migrants from Central America are protected.
“I plan to support the president’s budget request, but we must make sure we do not short-circuit justice for the children," he said.
But the overarching problem for Democrats at the moment is the president’s poor poll ratings. Historically, weak poll numbers for the president in a congressional election year spell trouble for the president’s party, says political analyst Charlie Cook.
“Whenever you have a president and a midterm election where the president’s approval rating is well below 50 percent and whose disapproval ratings are above 50 percent, at or above 50 percent, it is a problem,” he said.
Republicans currently hold a majority in the House and need a gain of six seats to seize a majority in the Senate. Republican control of both chambers in the president’s final two years in office would be a huge political obstacle for Obama.
Political analyst John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington says Republicans appear to be well on their way to making that happen.
“They need six seats to take to make the majority, but they’ve got a good shot, at least a 50-50 shot, of taking the Senate and probably even gaining a few seats in the House,” he said.
Obama’s second term blues are in keeping with recent history, says Charlie Cook, noting recent setbacks for two-term presidents like George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.
“You get into years six, seven and eight and they kind of run out of gas and bad things typically happen,” he said.
Obama seems determined to turn that around as he keeps up an energetic schedule of speeches around the country aimed at energizing Democrats for the midterm election. But even as the president slips into early campaign mode, it remains to be seen how many Democrats will welcome his help between now and November.