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House election results cloud Obama's jobs plan pitch

September 14, 2011|By James Oliphant | Washington Bureau

President Obama travels to North Carolina on Wednesday dogged by poor economic news, threats of resistance on the Hill, sagging poll numbers and Democratic losses in a pair of special House elections.

If September, and more specifically the president’s jobs speech, was intended to be the start of a new phase of Obama’s presidency, there is precious little indication as of yet that anything at all has changed.

Obama tour: An earlier version of this online article misstated the White House's assertions regarding any intended connection between President Obama's tour promoting his jobs package and his reelection campaign. The two are not related, the White House said.

Start with the election losses Tuesday in Nevada, and more crucially in New York. In losing the Empire State's 9th District, Democrats surrendered a congressional seat they have held since Prohibition — and just about everyone involved saw it as reflective of the public’s disquiet with the state of things.

"Republicans, Democrats, and independents in the heart of New York City sent an unmistakable message to President Obama tonight: change course," said Republican Bob Turner, after seizing former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s district over David Weprin.

Like any House race, the dynamic of the contest were tailored to the district’s interests and passions. In this case, the president’s Israel policy and gay marriage were two variables in the equation. But a top Democrat on Capitol Hill said that Obama inherits the outcome, whether it can be directly attributed to him or not.

“Every election reflects on the person in charge,” Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the minority whip, told reporters Tuesday. “Do I think it is an overall statement on the president alone? No. Do I think ... it will be interpreted as a statement on Obama? That is probably correct.”

While a similar upset in the Northeast, Sen. Scott Brown's win in 2010 in Massachusetts, seemed more driven by public unhappiness with the then-Democratic Congress, Turner's victory arguably was driven more by the link between the limping economy and the president.

“I am a registered Democrat, I have always been a registered Democrat, I come from a family of Democrats — and I hate to say this, I voted Republican,” Queens resident Linda Goldberg told the New York Times. “I need to send a message to the president that he’s not doing a very good job. Our economy is horrible. People are scared.”

While Democratic groups downplayed the results of a single, small-scale election, the president of a Republican advocacy group predicted that Democratic lawmakers would start distancing themselves from the president.

“The clearest implication from the two special elections last night is that President Obama and the economy he owns have become an undeniable drag on Democrats running for Congress,” said Steven Law of American Crossroads.

Obama, however, is working to prevent that from happening. He’ll be in Raleigh-Durham on Wednesday to stump for his American Jobs Act, the $447-billion plan the White House says will boost job creation nationwide.

And while the White House insists, as it did with the president’s August bus tour, that the events are not connected to the president’s reelection, the decision to Tuesday stop in Columbus, Ohio, and then in Raleigh-Durham, in two regions that seesaw between the parties, are not coincidences. The president appeared Tuesday to U2’s “City of Blinding Lights,” a sort of unofficial campaign anthem from 2008.

But there is bad news on that front as well. A new Bloomberg poll shows little confidence among those surveyed that the president’s plan will result in job growth.

According to the poll, a majority of Americans (51%) don’t believe that Obama’s plan will help lower the unemployment rate. Moreover, 62% of Americans disapprove of the president’s handling of the economy, it said.

Those results were countered a bit by a CNN poll out Wednesday that showed a plurality of those surveyed (43% to 35%) approved of Obama’s proposal.

But underlying both polls was an abiding sense of pessimism — especially in the capacity of the president and Republicans in Congress to resolve their differences and produce something effective.

And while Hill Republicans were initially sounding receptive to Obama’s plan, slowly the conversation is reverting to more familiar terms. Both House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor said that Obama’s bid to pay for his plan by reducing tax deductions available for high-income families was likely to go nowhere.

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