Obama's Reverse Coattails

11/03/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Over the course of many months in 2007, during the highs and lows of the Democratic presidential primary, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk politics with a good number of Democratic Members of Congress who were (and still are) running for reelection in tough, swing districts. Each one, whether running in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia or Florida gave the same answer when asked which prospective Democratic nominee - Clinton or Obama - would make their congressional race easier.

Each one answered Barack, despite the fact that Hillary was then outperforming him among their Democratic primary voters.

At the time, the conventional wisdom was that in swing districts, although Clinton might appeal to the working class white voters that comprised the bulk of their districts' Democratic constituencies, Obama was seen as the less polarizing candidate for the general election. As such, most of these Members believed that Clinton posed them the greatest threat in the general since she was likely to pump up the turn out of the Republican base. Obama, by contrast, was going to pull independents to their side and reduce the enthusiasm of movement conservatives.

But an interesting thing has happened in the months since the primary. For a variety of reasons - the resurgent posture of the Democrats in Congress, a dominant fundraising performance by the DCCC and a stable of far superior congressional candidates than those proffered by the GOP - the coattails have actually reversed and it is Obama who is being helped by a strong down ticket surge in pivotal regions across the country.

A good example of this is the Pennsylvania 3rd Congressional District, where Republican incumbent Phil English is getting the challenge of his career from businesswoman and political neophyte Kathy Dahlkemper. A recent poll conducted for Roll Call showed Dahlkemper leading English 49 percent to 45 percent, with 6 percent undecided. English was elected to his seat in the GOP-leaning district in 1994, succeeding Republican Tom Ridge, who was elected governor that year. It was drawn to guarantee a solid Republican seat. With Dahlkemper's strength pulling support to the Democrats, however, the poll shows Republican presidential nominee John McCain leading Obama by just 48 percent to 46 percent in the district. Local pundits are observing that an unexpectedly robust Dahlkemper campaign could be generating new votes for Obama in this key region of the state where John McCain needs to dominate.

Another example of a strong down ticket surge in a pivotal state for Obama is the Senate campaign of former Virginia Governor Mark Warner. Currently ahead by 30 points over his hapless Republican opponent, the enormously popular Warner has the opportunity to provide coattails to Obama - carrying the Democratic nominee to near-certain victory should he help generate a win in Virginia. (Should Warner win by 30 and not bring Obama with him, however, many Democratic activists would consider it a hollow victory ... and something Warner should definitely be working hard to avoid.)

As the list of swing districts and states grows in which unexpectedly strong Congressional and Senatorial Democratic candidates are dominating their Republican opponents, Obama stands to benefit from a national wave of down ticket strength - a phenomenon that is reversing prior assumptions about the election, and just may be the unforeseen factor that propels Obama to a dominant outcome on election day.