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The Midas touch: Obama goes 0 for 4 on the trail in tight races this week

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Has this guy been cursed by a witch so that Democrats now have to lose anytime he campaigns for them in a midterm?

It is not true that every candidate he stumped for over the last four days rolled craps on election night. He swung by Chicago to campaign for Democrats there, then stopped off in northern Virginia to rally the troops for Tim Kaine and House candidate Jennifer Wexton, both winners yesterday. But Kaine’s and Wexton’s races weren’t competitive. Kaine’s was an absolute foregone conclusion and Wexton was heavily favored to oust Republican Barbara Comstock long before O showed up.

Democrats didn’t need him to win in those places. They needed him, in theory, in the swing states — for Andrew Gillum and Bill Nelson in Florida, for Stacey Abrams in Georgia, and for Joe Donnelly in Indiana. O won Florida twice, Indiana once, and finished respectably in Georgia both times. His task in each state was to try to turn out black voters, the core of the Obama coalition, via a personal appearance from America’s black president. Total wins across those four contests, with Dems slightly favored in three of them and Abrams neck and neck in Georgia: Zippo. Tiana Lowe noticed.

Even after decimating Democratic state legislators while in office and setting up his own party to lose the White House to Donald Trump, the myth of a unifying Barack Obama has persisted. Sure, he remains an undeniably formidable figurehead and fundraiser. While the Democratic Party struggles to find a new leader, he and the persistently popular Michelle Obama make telegenic godparents for the party. But getting into the mud with politics as dirty as these was never the strong suit of the wily and covert brute force of Obama…

Clearly America doesn’t have too much of a problem with putting unabashed narcissists in power, but they have to be just that: unabashed. The coy performance of being above the fray while getting back in the ring just doesn’t work.

Somehow, Trump managed to clinch narrow victories through last minute rallies for candidates in tight races. He puts up an ugly fight, but in the politics of expectations, at least he’s authentic about his willingness to get in the gutter. So long as Obama refuses to learn that, he can’t have his holier-than-thou cake and eat electoral victories too.

Barack Obama: Delivering big for the Republican Party every four years since 2010. The only thing he’s more effective at selling than GOP candidates in midterms is guns.

Dunking on O is a fun, unifying post-midterm tradition for righties but there was another loser on the left last night that’s more important. One of the things that made Gillum such an intriguing, potentially worrisome figure for Republicans is that he (supposedly) had Obama-esque appeal to minorities and younger adults but also was far enough to the left, pitching “Medicare for all,” that he might have been able to win over Berniebros as a national candidate. Put Obama’s base from 2008/12 together with Bernie’s base from 2016 and that might be very tough to beat on a presidential ticket. But the Bernie-style far-left had about as strong a night yesterday in competitive races as Obama himself did:

So, here’s the progressive scorecard that @SeanMcElwee and I put together as a test of lefty strength. The Dem candidates went…. 0-8, with the ninth candidate trailing in CA-45.

Telling. pic.twitter.com/aKbnrwFkdN

— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) November 7, 2018

BuzzFeed noticed too:

In the wake of 2016, progressive groups argued that candidates should unapologetically run on economic populist policies like Medicare for All and debt-free college in red and purple districts across the country.

On Tuesday night — in Midwestern states like Nebraska, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Kansas — that strategy didn’t work.

Progressive stars who had emerged throughout the primary season like Kara Eastman, Randy Bryce, Jess King, and James Thompson all lost their elections…

“If you can’t win in these swing districts in this particular moment then you’ve run into a buzzsaw,” Jim Kessler, the cofounder of Third Way (a centrist think tank), told BuzzFeed News of progressives in races like Eastman’s in Nebraska. “They’re able to win these cobalt blue districts and win an actual seat in low-turnout primaries in red districts, but they’re not able to win in general elections where the electorate isn’t nearly as liberal or socialist as these candidates are.”

Gillum and Abrams, among others, were supposed to prove the progressive theory that not only could unvarnished leftism win, it could win in the purplest of states. They … sort of proved that theory; they were very competitive, after all. But Gillum lost a race he was supposed to win, to a Trumpy candidate no less. That ohfer that progressives took in tough elections is useful ammo to Democratic centrists as the 2020 primary brawl begins. The case will now be made that Hillary’s problem wasn’t her lack of populist-leftist cred, it was her lack of personal charm. Centrism can still win, it just needs a better salesman. That’s the biggest “macro” consequence of Florida’s outcome last night. (The biggest “micro” consequence is the fact that Florida will be run by a pro-Trump governor when the battle for 29 electoral votes starts again.)

But don’t get cocky. This is also true:

With Evers winning, Dems went 7 for 8 in Senate/gov races in MI, OH, PA, Wi —all states Trump won in 2016.

— James Oliphant (@jamesoliphant) November 7, 2018

I noticed how badly Republicans were doing in Trump’s alleged Rust Belt strongholds last week. Trump played off last night’s House losses in his presser today as a result of candidates not embracing him closely enough, but Lou Barletta, for instance, was Trumpy as could be in Pennsylvania. The success of Democrats in most midwestern states (Ohio being a notable exception) is also grist for the mill for centrist Dems ahead of 2020. This is further proof, they’ll say, that Trump didn’t win Michigan and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania because we needed some neo-socialist nominee. All we needed was an average Democrat like Debbie Stabenow or Tony Evers. Trump didn’t “win” those states so much as Hillary lost them. Find a more likable Hillary! If that’s all they need, that’s … the easiest task in politics.

Here’s Obama a few days ago with Kaine, as low-energy as “low energy” gets.

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