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2015 Will Be a Year of Reaction for the President

President Obama began last year vowing to use his pen to get things done. He opens this one pledging to wield it to stop legislation in its tracks.

The difference is the new Republican Congress. It throws the president, for his final two years in office, into the role of a goalie trying to preserve his squad's hold on the game. If the GOP can bridge its internal fissures—no small task—Obama may see a steady stream of unpalatable bills pertaining to energy, health care, education, immigration, and, of course, the federal budget.

At its heart, the coming year may well be defined as a struggle between a president trying to safeguard his progressive accomplishments and newly empowered conservatives determined to undermine them. "I'm going to defend gains that we've made in health care; I'm going to defend gains that we've made on environment and clean air and clean water," Obama said in an interview with NPR that aired over the holidays. Both sides hope to use the battle for their own political purposes, further worsening the odds of compromise.

Republicans will likely do their best to target areas of the Affordable Care Act...

Obama's Recent Bold Actions Shape the Contest for 2016

So there he was.

The President Obama on display the past few weeks has been the one many of his supporters have been expecting since he took office. In a flurry of decisions—executive action providing legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants, a climate deal with China, the move toward normalization with Cuba—he's been decisive, bold, and seemingly oblivious to near-term political costs. Rather than fruitlessly trying to untangle Gordian knots on Capitol Hill, he's moved to slice through them with unilateral executive action. Obama swaggered so much during his year-end press conference last week that he looked as though he might lift the microphone from the podium and drop it on the stage, pop-star style, as he walked out.

It's quite a reversal for a president who watched Republicans romp so thoroughly in the November election that they now hold the most House seats they've had since the Depression. Yet Obama seems clearly liberated, in part because he no longer must constrain his actions for fear of hurting red-state congressional Democrats. On issues like immigration, Obama restrained himself, and almost all of those embattled Democrats lost anyway. He now looks to be operating...

Three Key Questions Will Determine What Direction Election Winds Are Blowing

The political environment usually is "set" in midterm elections around midsummer. At that point, it's generally easy to see which direction the partisan winds are blowing, and one usually has an idea as to whether those winds are light, moderate, or heavy. By this time in the cycle, now a week from the election, you can have a much better idea of the velocity of those winds, though it's still admittedly impossible to know precisely how many seats will fall to those winds. This degree of uncertainty is what keeps elections—even in fairly predictable years—interesting, along with, of course, the occasional unexpected outcome.

Here are the three key questions of this cycle:

1. Can Democrats save one or even two of the six Senate seats in states that Romney won by 14 points or more? These include the open seats in Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia—all three highly unlikely seats for Dems to win—as well as incumbents Mark Begich (Alaska), Mark Pryor (Arkansas), and Mary Landrieu (Louisiana). Important to note: The outcome in Louisiana will probably be settled on Dec. 6, rather than Election Night, as no candidate is likely to get the...

The Trench Warfare Begins

With just a little more than two weeks to go before the midterm election, Democrats are increasingly in need of a break or two to salvage their Senate majority. In my National Journal Daily column a month ago (September 14), after suggesting that Republicans had a 60 percent chance of scoring the six-seat net gain necessary for a majority, I asked what might go wrong for the GOP that could derail that outcome. It's useful in my business to ask, "If I am wrong about this, why am I wrong?"

There are two potential problems for Republicans that could cost them the majority in an election that certainly seems highly stacked in their favor—after all, the party just needs to get voters who normally vote Republican and live in Republican states to vote for Republican Senate candidates. Democrats are defending seven seats in states carried by Mitt Romney—six where the former presidential nominee won by margins of 14 points or more—compared with Republicans, who are defending just one seat in an Obama state (Susan Collins in Maine, who is safe). All three endangered GOP seats are in states comfortably won by Romney. This is not the...

Stacked Deck

While the outcomes of presidential races are pretty much decided by how the swing, or "purple," states split, in the fight for control of the U.S. Senate that is not always the case. The challenge for Democrats in this election is having so many seats up in very Republican states. Seven of those seats are in states carried by Mitt Romney, and—tougher still—six of the seven are states Romney carried by 14 points or more.

The challenge currently facing Democrats will likely be mirrored on the GOP side in 2016, when the Republicans have 24 Senate seats up, to only 10 for the Democrats. Seven of those 24 GOP seats are in states that President Obama won in 2012, and five are in states that he won by 5 points or more.

In Illinois, Mark Kirk will face voters in a state that Obama won by 17 points. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin will be running in a state where Obama prevailed by 7 points. Both Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire and Chuck Grassley in Iowa will have races in states that Obama won by 6 points. Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania will be running in a state Obama...