Last week found Bill Clinton in the unaccustomed position of being only the third-most-significant Clinton in the news: he trailed his wife, the secretary of state, and his daughter, whose wedding rivaled Princess Diana's in terms of a media frenzy. As a result, people may not have noticed that the father of the bride appeared at a boisterous South Boston union hall last week to endorse Democratic Representative Stephen F. Lynch and at a fundraiser for Democratic Representative Leonard Boswell of Iowa. But in Washington everything Clinton does gets noticed. Here, the marriage that counts is the political marriage between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and the jitters aren't matrimonial but electoral.
The midterm elections are just three months away. All across the country, Democratic members of Congress are bracing for tough reelection campaigns, and doing so without a valuable asset. The sky-high approval ratings that carried Barack Obama into the White House in 2008 -- and brought so many Democrats to Washington with him -- have diminished, in some places greatly. Obama's overall standing hovers around 45 percent and much lower in places like Arkansas and Missouri, where key Democrats are running in especially difficult races. That's significant, because, as Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University, has noted, ''When it comes to choosing candidates for Congress, it is opinions of the president's performance that matter.'' Today, many Democrats find themselves pondering a question that would have seemed unthinkable only a year ago: Does President Obama help them or hurt them?