In Wall Street Journal news article, political reporter Jonathan Weisman claims that “loyalty to Obama costs Democrats,” blaming votes for President Obama’s signature legislative accomplishments. Citing votes on health care, the recovery act, financial regulation, and climate change, Weisman relates the electoral chances of Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA) — a “loyal backer of President Barack Obama’s agenda” — and Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA) — who is “running away from the president.” Both were elected in 2006, but Murphy is now “facing the fight of his life” and Altmire is “running away” with his race:
In their contrasting fates lie broader lessons for the coming midterms: Live by the president and you could die by the president. Democrats who have been thorns in the president’s side are doing well in some of the toughest districts for their party, from Alabama to the steel belt of western Pennsylvania. But swing-district Democrats who have voted with the president in Congress are struggling, even if they’re now asserting their independence.
Weisman repeats his assertion throughout the article, saying “resistance to the agenda is rewarding some House Democrats as the midterm elections approach” and that there is a “pattern of opponents of the Obama agenda doing better than supporters in conservative and swing districts.” Weisman’s article is accompanied by an impressive-looking chart of 11 Democrats, purporting to prove that “[i]n swing districts, House Democrats who’ve resisted some party initiatives are polling strongly” — and those who supported Obama’s agenda are in trouble.
The problem is that Weisman’s claim relies on misleadingly cherry-picked data. As Weisman points out, there are Obama supporters in conservative districts that are expected by polling mavens such as 538’s Nate Silver or Charlie Cook to lose — Murphy, Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA), Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-OH), and Rep. Betsy Markey (D-CO). But there are also Democrats in conservative districts who supported all of Obama’s top priorities that are expected to win — such as Rep. Phil Hare (D-IL), Rep. Zack Space (D-OH), Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI), and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ).
And just as there are House Democrats who sometimes voted against Obama’s signature agenda that are doing well — Altmire, Rep. Health Shuler (D-NC), Rep. Larry Kissell (D-NC), Rep. Walt Minnick (D-ID) — there are those who are struggling — Rep. Chet Edwards (D-TX), Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-MD), Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (D-SD), Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-AZ), Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ), Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-TN), and Rep. Jim Marshall (D-GA).
Although Weisman points out Rep. Travis Childers (D-MS) as someone who is “running strongly” and Rep. Bobby Bright (D-AL) as “strongly in the running,” Nate Silver projects both Childers and Bright are highly likely to lose.
In fact, one of the entries in Weisman’s chart — Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) — is shown as supporting all of Obama’s agenda and leading in her re-election campaign in a politically contested, economically devastated district:
Even Weisman’s own cherry-picked data refutes the premise of his article. The reality is that there’s just no apparent statistical correlation between these four votes and the re-election chances of Democrats in tough districts. The dominant factor affecting this mid-term election is the stagnant economy, which Republicans correctly calculated would hurt the majority party more than the minority, and thus obstructed a stronger recovery package, a stronger Wall Street reform package, stronger health care legislation, clean energy jobs, ending tax cuts on the rich, closing corporate loopholes, and a host of other policies which would have created more jobs faster.
It’s possible that some influence of voting record on political viability could be found after the election results are in, but Weisman’s article is unsupportable as written.