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To Win in 2012 'Democrats Are Going to Have to Distinguish Themselves From the President'

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Barack Obama's approval rating is hovering around 40 percent, falling as low as 38 percent in a recent Gallup survey and 39 percent in the latest McClatchey-Marist poll.

That's bad. And the numbers from the battleground states are even more unsettling, A new Quinnipiac survey of Florida voters finds that only 39 percent approve of Obama's handling of the presidency, while 57 percent disapprove. Only 41 percent of those surveyed say they think the president should be reelected.

Polls are transitory. The president's numbers can and probably will improve, especially if he stays focused on the message he has been delivering in recent days: invest in job creation, establish fairer tax policies that make the rich pay their share, defend Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

But what if the president wavers? What if his numbers stay in the doldrums, or only improve marginally? Then the man who had such lengthy coattails in 2008 could become a burden for down-ballot Democrats in 2012. Just as anti-Obama sentiments on the right pulled voters to the polls in 2010, while a waning of enthusiasm for the president on the left depressed Democratic turnout that year, 2012 could see a pattern where Democrats lose not just the presidency but the Senate, the House and key state contests across the country.

That doomsday scenario has a lot of Democrats in Washington scared. But not all of them accept that 2012 has to be an either/or year where Democrats either win everything or lose everything.

Congressman Peter DeFazio, the Oregon populist who rarely minces words when it comes to policy and political calculations, is arguing that "Democrats are all going to have to distinguish themselves from the president."

DeFazio has never made a secret of his frustration with the president's compromises on economic issues. The Oregon progressive broke with his caucus to oppose the 2009 stimulus bill because he said it contained too little investment in infrastrure and real job creation. He was right. But that did not please the president, who told the congressman at a House Democratic Caucus meeting that year: "Don't think we're not keeping score, brother."

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