Ahead of the 1994 midterm elections, President Clinton traveled the country to make the case that voters should not hand Congress to the GOP. Newt Gingrich and his Republican colleagues, Mr. Clinton argued, wanted to return to the disastrous policies of the past; he insisted, a month before the vote, that the American people "will not be fooled again."
It didn't work. Republicans took control of both houses of Congress, and pundits saw the vote as a clear repudiation of the president's policies. Media coverage suggested it was all but over for the Democratic president.
And then -- just two years later -- Mr. Clinton cruised to a nine-point reelection victory over
That's not something anyone in the Obama administration will say out loud, and for good reason: It reeks of the very Washington cynicism that many voters find repugnant. Indeed, any sign that the president is not fully behind his party would be met with outrage; when White House spokesman Robert Gibbs merely suggested back in July that Democrats might lose the House - which they very well might - Speaker Nancy Pelosi made her anger known.
Much like Mr. Clinton did, Mr. Obama has been traveling the country to raise money for Democratic candidates and generate enthusiasm heading into the midterms. The parallels between their efforts are striking, though John Boehner has replaced Newt Gingrich as the designated GOP bad guy. Even the message has been similar: "The other party spent a decade driving the economy into the ditch...now they want the car keys back," Mr. Obama said at a Missouri fundraiser in July. They can't have them back. They don't know how to drive."
But while Mr. Obama certainly seems to want to hang on to the House, it would be naive to think the White House isn't considering both the plusses and minuses that come with a loss. The big potential advantage, as Mr. Clinton suggested, is a bump in Mr. Obama's reelection prospects.
Critical Contests: Interactive Map with CBS News 2010 Election Race Ratings
Why would this be the case? Because once Republicans are back in power, even in a limited sense, they will be expected to help govern the country. And from a messaging standpoint, that's a problem.
While Republicans are trying to portray themselves as having new ideas to move forward - they are releasing a new legislative agenda Thursday - they have gotten much more traction in the past two years with an anti-Democrat message than with a pro-Republican one. (Remember, despite all the energy on the right, Republicans remain the less popular party overall.) The argument that American needs to throw the (dangerous, extremist) bums out becomes more difficult to make when you're among the bums.