WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama will matter little to next year's Democratic Senate races, even though Republicans will try to link the poll-challenged commander-in-chief to candidates further down the ticket, a top Senate campaign official predicted Thursday.
In the last three congressional elections, the sitting president figured heavily in the campaign strategies of the opposing party, and the tactic had impact, as the out-of power party gained ground each time.
But next year will be different, argued Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, in a session with reporters at the centrist think tank Third Way. At the same time, he acknowledged the GOP would do all it could to tether Democratic Senate candidates to Obama.
"They usually superimpose him over our shoulders, or the artificial hug, where they accidentally add three fingers to Jon Tester's hand," said Cecil, referring to a doctored photo in a GOP ad that replaced the fingers the Montana senator lost as a child. "I'm sure they will find many ways to work the president into television ads."
And while Obama's poll numbers have been unimpressive for a while, Cecil argued that the national presidential race would not necessarily impact state contests.
"2006, 2008, 2010 by every estimation were nationalized elections, they were macro elections," Cecil said. "I think more than anything else this election has the capacity to be a micro election, an election that really affects every state differently."
He argued that the GOP takeover of the House in 2010 made it much easier for Democrats to frame their 2012 races as a choice between two individuals, because unlike in 2010, Democrats have a concrete example of GOP governance to point at.
"Now we actually have a real time example of what a Republican majority looks like," Cecil said. "Part of our job is to make sure we not only talk about our views on the economy and jobs, but we make clear what a Republican agenda would look like."
And there, he said, Democrats win. "In almost every poll in every state -- red, blue, purple -- when you test the president's jobs plan, when you test the individual pieces of various Senate bills, we do better than Republicans," he said.
While National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh scoffed at Cecil's optimism, Cecil insisted that Democrats shouldn't have to agonize over the inevitable questions of what to do when Obama comes to town -- even if he or some of his policies are not popular.
"I don't think they should be ham-handed about it; I don't think they should unnecessarily or artificially separate themselves from the president," Cecil said. "When they disagree, I think they should say so ... I worry about this a lot less than I think the coverage suggests [it] is an issue."
He also didn't buy another claim that some make -- that with Obama himself running against the even more unpopular Congress, his complaints about lawmakers will hurt incumbent Democrats.
"In every one of our incumbent states, our incumbents run ahead of the president -- higher favorable ratings, higher job performance, higher head-to-head numbers, so I don't think it'll have any impact," Cecil said.
He said he was amused by the notion that Obama might hurt Democrats by both running with individual candidates and running against them.
"On one hand, we shouldn't run with President Obama, he shouldn't come into the state, and on the other hand, President Obama is running against us -- [it] doesn't seem exactly possible to do both of those things at the same time," Cecil said.
The NRSC's Walsh said he did not accept the DSCC argument.
"For anyone to try to spin that an unpopular president will not be a drag on his fellow down-ticket candidates is not even a serious statement," Walsh said.
He countered that the electoral dynamics are in his party's favor.
“It’s worth remembering that Democrat strategists tried that same spin last year as well, just before they went on to lose seven Senate seats and control of the House of Representatives," Walsh said. "The reality is that the Democrats’ record of growing government, instead of growing private sector jobs, is deeply unpopular in key states around the country, and next year’s election will be a referendum on their failed economic policies.”