02:20 - Source: CNN
Democrats stumble in key Senate races

Story highlights

Obama sounds increasingly pessimistic about Democrats' chances in the midterms

Obama: "We get depressed too easily"

Democratic candidates in races across the country are distancing from Obama

Washington CNN —  

At pricey fundraisers – where there’s plenty of freedom to offer an unvarnished view of the world away from the cameras – President Barack Obama is sounding increasingly pessimistic about his party’s chances in the midterm elections.

At a Thursday fundraiser at the Los Angeles home of actress Gwyneth Paltrow, Obama complained Democrats have a “congenital disease” during midterm cycles, repeating a diagnosis he has used before. “We get depressed too easily,” Obama joked. “We’re terrible at paying attention to midterm elections,” he continued.

READ: Gwyneth Paltrow to Obama: ‘You’re so handsome that I can’t speak.”

The gloomy mood is understandable. Former top Cabinet secretaries, and even Jimmy Carter, are hammering his policies. Key Democratic candidates are avoiding him, and in at least one case, unwilling to say if she voted for him.

Next month’s elections loom at a moment of great hand-wringing for the president’s party. Understanding full well Obama’s unpopularity is a drag on some Democrats in tight congressional races, White House officials are signaling to party leaders and campaign managers alike there will be no consequences should they run away from the president in order to win.

Obama has yet to acknowledge his own weak standing with the public at any of his political events. Instead, the president appears to blame what he describes as obstructionist Republicans and a polarized, vapid news media.

“We live in such a cynical time, partly because of how the media is now structured,” Obama said at Paltrow’s home. “We only listen to folks who feed our biases and our inclinations. And bad news tends to attract the most attention,” he added.

At an earlier event in the day, Obama used stark language to label House Republican refusals to pass immigration reform “suicide.”

The president seemed to retool at least part of his midterm pitch, after declaring his policies are “on the ballot” in November, a line that his former strategist David Axelrod called a mistake. In Hollywood, there was a re-write to that declaration.

“My name is not on the ballot,” Obama said in Los Angeles. “But our values and our ideals… are at stake,” he added, avoiding any reference to his “policies.”

READ: Have Democrats already lost the Senate?

Democratic candidates in critical races across the country are scrambling to distance themselves from both Obama and his policies, especially in the south where the president remains deeply unpopular.

In Kentucky, Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes refused to answer whether she had ever voted for Obama during an appearance before the Louisville Courier-Journal editorial board Thursday.

“You know, this election isn’t about the president,” Grimes said. “I was actually, in ‘08, a delegate for Hillary Clinton,” she added.

As he starts his own midterm push, the president is sticking to friendlier turf. In California, he made an unannounced stop at the campaign office of Democratic congressional candidate Ted Lieu, a state senator running for the seat vacated by outgoing Rep. Henry Waxman (D) California.

“California is right at the heart of the battle for control of the House,” Obama said to volunteers at Lieu’s call center. “Because of just the day-to-day work you’re doing, making phone calls, making sure our voters turn out, answering people’s questions about what the issues are, it makes a difference – that’s how I was able to get elected.”

READ: House Dems worry about cash challenge

White House officials reject the notion that the president’s mood is grim. Obama’s message at upcoming public campaign events will likely differ in tone and substance from remarks he makes at fundraisers, another official added.

Obama will campaign with Connecticut governor Dan Malloy on October 15, White House officials announced Thursday. Obama’s advisers argue the president still has the ability to excite base Democratic party supporters who were instrumental to his two successful runs for the White House. Steering clear of Obama, they argue, is also a gamble.

“We’re not bringing him in to suppress voter turnout, if that’s what you’re asking,” Malloy quipped to the Connecticut Post.

As soon as the president steps onto the stage in Connecticut, the president’s rhetoric will be placed under a microscope.

“Not a great way to go out of office, angry and blaming the system,” former presidential adviser and CNN political analyst David Gergen said. “My sense of it is he’s on an emotional roller coaster,” Gergen added.

Once the midterms are over, Gergen suggested a reshuffling of top White House staff to buoy the president’s prospects for his final years in office.

“If he shook it up a little bit, that would help,” Gergen said.

READ: Wall Street predicts GOP midterm victory