President Obama pinch-hit on the campaign trail for a recovering Hillary Clinton this week, but if history is any guide, she will have to win — or lose — this election on her own.
In Philadelphia Monday, the president insisted that he “really, really, really” wants Clinton to beat Republican Donald Trump. For the Clinton campaign, deploying Obama is a smart. He is far more popular with voters than she is, and he has a demonstrated talent for firing up a crowd.
“A lot of time, voters — or at least enough voters who aren’t committed partisans — say, ‘Maybe, let’s try the other party again.'”
But when voters head to the polls in November, it will still be Clinton’s name on the ballot, not his.
“It’s a fairly infrequent occurrence in modern presidential politics,” said University of Wisconsin-Eau Clair political science professor Eric Kasper, reflecting on the record of candidates trying to hold the White House after a two-term presidency of their party. “A lot of time, voters — or at least enough voters who aren’t committed partisans — say, ‘Maybe, let’s try the other party again.'”
Obama’s approval rating, according to the RealClearPolitics average, stands at 50.6 percent. That is lower than Bill Clinton’s was in 2000 when Vice President Al Gore came up short in his White House bid. George H.W. Bush was able to win Ronald Reagan’s “third term” in 1988, but prior to that, the last presidential candidate to succeed a member of his own party without taking office due the death or resignation of his predecessor was Herbert Hoover.
[lz_third_party align=center includes=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21m9FTJIn4U]
“Legacy candidates tend not to do well in America,” said political consultant and Reagan biographer Craig Shirley.
Shirley said Bush benefited not only from Reagan’s personal popularity but from “great peace and prosperity.” He said the argument for the status quo is harder to make at a time when the economy remains stuck in neutral, the labor-force participation rate is at its lowest point in four decades, and U.S. troops are engaged in foreign wars.
According to the RealClearPolitics average, 63.9 percent of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track.
[lz_table title=”Obama Approval Rating” source=”RealClearPolitics”]Polls Released in September
“Every election is about change vs. the status quo,” Shirley said.
Kasper said Clinton’s challenge is to simultaneously present herself as the candidate of continuity while convincing Americans that she understands the country still has great problems. He said she has tried to do that by rolling out proposals that seek to build on Obama’s record.
“She’s tried to do that a little bit in terms of her policy proposals,” he said. “The problem is if you’re not happy with things, she’s not the change candidate.”
Kasper, who has studied the impact of endorsements, said Obama could help with turning out Democratic-leaning voters. But he added that he probably will not change many minds — or even try to.
“Those endorsements mean a little bit more in a primary,” he said.
“It will help but only to the extent that Hillary already has their vote,” he said.
The rule applies down-ballot, as well. A Clinton landslide victory could pull in many Democrats running for Congress. But if she cannot manage that, it is unlikely Obama would be able to push Democratic hopefuls across the finish line in congressional and gubernatorial contests.
Obama’s record of delivering victories for his party when he was not on the ballot is particularly bad. In the 2010 and 2014 midterms, Democrats lost a combined 76 House seats and 15 Senate seats.