Obama wants an election about economy, not him

By Jim Kuhnhenn and Darlene Superville ,AP

SANTA MONICA, California — U.S. President Barack Obama is increasingly touting the economic recovery in a bid to help his party retain narrow control over the Senate in November elections, a campaign strategy fraught with risk at a time when his popularity is down and many Americans are frustrated that their lives have not improved despite the emergence from recession.

The White House is betting that Obama’s tight embrace of the economic recovery and populist proposals for gender pay equity and a higher minimum wage will galvanize his core supporters and persuade fence-sitting independents to vote for Democratic candidates.

The stakes in this election are especially high because the Republicans are likely to retain control of the lower house of Congress and they appear to have a strong chance of gaining the six seats in the Senate they need to gain control there.

While noting that he’s not on the ballot in this election, Obama has become fond of saying that his policies are at stake. The line has prompted a reflexive flinch from Democrats who are trying to fend off a concerted Republican campaign to link Democratic opponents to the president.

Addressing young entrepreneurs Thursday at a startup center in California, Obama highlighted his economic record for the third time in eight days.

“A lot of you entered into the workforce during the worst financial crisis and then the worst recession since the Great Depression,” he told the gathering of mostly millennials, those born after 1980. “You are coming out of this recession with the best educated, most diverse, most digitally fluent generation in American history.”

For Democrats, the problem is not Obama’s message; it’s the pitchman. “The messenger is not the most popular guy on the planet right now,” said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman.

Public opinion polls show substantial support for Obama’s proposals to raise the minimum wage, seek pay equity for women and close corporate tax loopholes. But on the economic issues he’s most associated with — the fitful recovery from the Great Recession and his health care law — the American public is not with him.

A September AP-GfK poll found 40 percent approve and 58 percent disapprove of his handling of the economy, and that 41 percent approve and 58 percent disapprove of his handling of health care. Overall, Obama’s national approval ratings are 44 percent, compared to 51 percent who disapprove, according to the latest numbers from Gallup.