The pollster, a Democrat with several House and Senate candidates on this year's ballot, did not hesitate for a second this week before blurting out an answer that captured the anxiety of so many Democrats running in 2014. Asked if he is concerned that it has taken the White House a while to settle on a coherent political message, his answer was sarcastic: "You mean, like five or six years?" After laughing, the pollster added more softly, "I can't explain what they are doing or why."
He is not alone. Many Democrats are worried. They know the history of how the parties of second-term presidents suffer in the midterm elections. They know the "shellacking" they took in 2010 when they were held to account for their support of President Obama's policies. And they know their electoral fates are tied inextricably to that of a president mired in the low-40s in voter approval. They want him to take charge of his party's political destiny with a strong message. "The Democrats nationally don't have a message at all," complains veteran Ohio Democratic strategist Jerry Austin. "That's what is troubling."
Inside the White House, they don't minimize the concerns. After all, they read the same polls. But, according to a top adviser to Obama, they have a few simple words for Democrats: Help is on the way. They insist that the president is ready to throw himself into the campaign. More important — because many endangered Democrats are running in states where Obama's unpopularity precludes any personal campaigning — they insist he is ready to hammer home a message that any Democrat can easily embrace.