Will Obama drag down Sen. Brown?

Democrats keep insisting that there are 13 months to the 2012 presidential election, which is a lifetime in politics. But unless the economy starts humming and the national jobless rate drops below 8 percent, Democratic President Barack Obama’s bid for a second four-year term will be anything but assured.

And that raises a question: At what point do Democrats running for the U.S. House and Senate decide that the president is a liability?

The question is especially important for Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, who will seek a second six-year term in 2012.

While the latest statewide Quinnipiac University poll shows Brown with a 13 percent lead over his likely Republican challenger, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel — 49-36 percent — the margin is by no means comfortable. First, Mandel has been treasurer for only 10 months, having won last year’s general election in his first run statewide. Second, the president’s approval rating in Ohio is dropping like a stone — just as it is nationally.

In the Quinnipiac poll of 1,301 registered voters in Ohio, 44 percent say they’d vote for Obama, while 42 prefer Republican Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts. The poll has a margin of error is 2.7 percentage points.

The president doesn’t do much better when pitted against Texas Gov. Rick Perry — 44 percent to 41 percent.

But it’s the approval-disapproval rating that should trouble Democratic officeholders like Brown. According to the poll, Ohio voters disapprove 53-42 percent of the job Obama is doing, matching his lowest overall approval. On whether he deserves to be re-elected, 51 percent say “no”, compared with 43 percent who believe he does.

There’s no doubt that the poll reflects the national anxiety about the economy and the fact that Ohio’s unemployment rate remains high, but Democrats can’t ignore the fact that Ohio will be a battleground state next year.

“President Barack Obama’s standing among all Ohio voters is back to its lowest ever,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “They gave him a 53-42 percent disapproval rating on his job performance, and say by 51-43 percent he does not deserve another term in the Oval Office. But when he is matched against Perry and Romney, those races are statistical ties.”

The gender gap in the poll is revealing: Men back Romney over Obama 47-41 percent, while women back the president 46-38 percent over Romney. In an Obama-Perry race, 45 percent of men said they were for the Republican governor from Texas, while 41 percent chose the Democratic incumbent; women, on the other hand, went for the president 46-37 percent over Perry.

Declaration of independents

But it is with the key voting group, independents, that Obama appears to be in trouble; he splits these voters 39-39 percent with Romney, and barely wins the group over Perry, 38-35 percent.

When Obama ran for president in 2008, he forged a coalition of Democrats, independents, young voters and first-time black voters to defeat the Republican nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain. It now appears that the coalition is dissolving, which is bad news for the Democrats.

The perception among voters across the political spectrum is that Obama is in over his head and does not have the political strength to push through his job-creation initiatives in Congress. Democrats control the Senate, but the GOP has the majority in the House.

Top Republicans have made it clear that their only goal is to prevent the president from winning a second term.

Thus, Ohio’s Democratic senator, Brown, must calculate whether to tie his political future to an unpopular head of next year’s Democratic ticket.

Last November’s general election in Ohio in which Republicans won every statewide office and took control of the General Assembly can only be seen as a repudiation of the Democratic brand of politics as created by Obama. Dissatisfaction with what is going on in the White House and Congress prompted many Democrats to stay home. Whether they will be inspired to return to the polls next year is anybody’s guess.

Sen. Brown can take solace from the fact that Ohio voters do approve the job he is doing, by a vote of 52-31 percent, according to the Quinnipiac poll. That is why he can’t be seen as being joined at the political hip with Obama.

Republicans in Ohio will make the president the issue in next year’s election. Brown can only hope that there is a major turnaround in the economy — or else he will have to publicly separate himself from the resident of the White House.

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