Dr. Obama: Democrats Have ‘Congenital Disease’ in Midterms

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton's shadow is cast as he applauds Kentucky Democratic Senate Candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes during a campaign event on Feb. 25, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Photograph by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s shadow is cast as he applauds Kentucky Democratic Senate Candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes during a campaign event on Feb. 25, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky.

President Barack Obama may have a congenital case of using the phrase “congenital disease” to describe a persistent drop-off in Democratic voter-turnout in midterm elections.

Obama dropped the phrase again at a fundraiser yesterday for Senate Democrats in Colorado, where Sen. Mark Udall is in a close race in the state where Obama was formally nominated in 2008 and prevailed in November and again in 2012.

While the high-turnout 2008 election “was sort of lightning in a bottle,” the president said at the fundraising lunch, “one challenge that I always offered to Democrats is we do have one congenital disease, which is we’re not very good during off-year elections.”

Obama also invoked the phrase at Democratic fundraisers on June 11 in Weston, Massachusetts; May 22 in Chicago; May 14 in New York; May 8 in La Jolla, California; and April 9 in Houston.

Midterm elections draw less interest and voter participation than presidential elections, and the trend has affected both political parties. The party leading the White House usually loses ground in Congress. In November 2006, near the end of Republican George W. Bush’s sixth year in the White House, Democrats surged to win majorities in the House and the Senate.

Obama, seeking to reshape the composition of the Congress that will serve for the final two years of his presidency, wants to avoid a re-run of the 2010 midterms, in which Republicans reclaimed control of the House with a net gain of 63 seats and also narrowed the Democrats’ Senate majority by six seats.

House Democrats had a high risk of exposure in pro-Republican 2010 after winning so many seats in 2006 and 2008, both good Democratic years. House Republicans, with 234 of the 435 seats, are close to reaching their high water-mark in a chamber where most seats are secure for the defending party as a result of demographics, incumbency, partisan redistricting, and other factors.

It’s a different story for the Senate, where another six-seat Republican gain in possible — and this time that would overturn a Democratic majority that now stands at 55-45. There are seven states Obama lost in the 2012 election where Democrats are defending Senate seats this November, including six where the president lost by at least 13.7 percentage points.

Democrats have some tough defenses in some states the president won, including Colorado. Udall faces a tougher challenge this year (from Rep. Cory Gardner) than he did in 2008, when a good national political environment for Democrats helped Obama and also lifted Udall to an easy 10-point victory. The non-partisan Cook Political Report rates this year’s Colorado Senate race as a tossup.

Udall “is a serious person who is trying to do the right thing and who has the values that we share,” Obama said.


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