Obama, Empathy and the Midterms

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...Despite President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s celebrated World War II record, voters didn’t “like Ike” enough to keep his fellow Republicans from losing 48 House seats amid the 1958 recession. For all his talents, Mr. Clinton watched his party lose control of both the House and Senate in the 1994 midterm election, in which economic weakness was one of many factors. “We have a controlled experiment,” observed Stan Greenberg, one of Mr. Clinton’s pollsters, downplaying the significance of Mr. Obama’s empathic skills. “Clearly Bill Clinton had the ability to connect emotionally. He got slaughtered in 1994.”

Moreover, the unemployment rate Mr. Clinton faced then never got higher than 6.6 percent — nowhere near the 9.6 percent rate Mr. Obama faces today. Late last year, notwithstanding his stimulus program, unemployment hit 10 percent for the first time since the 1982 recession, during Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

After studying their predecessors in similar circumstances, aides to Mr. Obama have come to see Mr. Reagan’s challenging midterm campaign that year as something of a model. “This one feels more like 1982 than 1994,” said Daniel Pfeiffer, the White House communications director....

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