A comparison of presidential and congressional polls this cycle quickly shows that Obama is running well behind congressional Democrats. However, in 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004, the Democratic nominee for President outperfomed the collective Democratic result for the national U.S. House elections. It's true:
The belief that Democratic presidential nominees underperform Democrats at the congressional level is flat-out false. The last Democratic nominee to underperform congressional Democrats was Michael Dukakis in 1988.
Democrats won the 1996 popular vote for the U.S. House, showing once again how Republicans have successfully governed for so long with a 50% minus one strategy. That this is even allowed in a "democracy" is a sad testament to our form of government.
With the exception of 1996, when Clinton outperformed congressional Democrats by 8.2%, Democratic nominees have sported nearly identical popular vote margins to Democrats running for Congress. In 1992, 2000 and 2004, the difference was less than 1%.
I don't have all of the answers to this problem, but I do stand by my thesis that it is mostly because of McCain's popularity, not because the country has a problem with Obama. The gap has persisted despite Obama sporting favorable ratings of close to 60% for the past several months. This gap has persisted all summer, long before people outside of Alaska had ever heard of Sarah Palin. It is a problem that seems mostly separate from Palin, and separate from Obama. The problem seems to be McCain himself.
I don't think national Democrats are doing enough to knock McCain down. I suggest they start with something simple: stop the tendency to preface criticism of McCain with a tribute to McCain. If McCain's extremely high favorable rating is pushing this election into Dukakis territory, then we don't need to add any more reason for people to think of McCain favorably. It is time to knock McCain back down. Let's start by ending the compliments and the tributes.