Recent signs of an economic slowdown — stock market declines, so-so job numbers, sluggish growth — aren’t a good reason for Republicans to crack open the champagne. In fact, they could well end up being used to hurt Republicans in Congress. All other things being equal, of course, President Obama would be best off politically with a strong recovery but a weakening but still active one (that coincides with Republican House control) may be the next best thing for him.
It’s pretty simple: a strong recovery would help all incumbents and strengthen parties in places where they are naturally strong. In this kind of environment, Republicans would easily retain control of the House and almost certainly take the Senate even if Obama wins reelection. (There are currently eight Democratic seats Republicans can plausibly compete for and only two Republican-held seats where Democrats have a chance.)
A weakening economy, on the other hand, is likely to hurt anyone in power. With the President’s respectable approval numbers, a weak Republican field, and the near certainty that he’ll be able to put more resources behind a reelection bid than anyone on the Right, a Republican will have a hard time. Yes, a bad economy weakens Obama, but it isn’t necessarily fatal.
Democrats seeking seats in Congress, on the other hand, will have much more to run against in a failing economy particularly if no Republican at the top of the ticket can deliver charisma and resources equal to Obama’s. As the debt ceiling issue seems to be contributing to the slowdown, Democrats may have a plausible case to ask for a return of the House. With redistricting likely to benefit Democrats in at least a few key states, holding a rather narrow House majority is going to be a challenge anyway. Bottom line: a slowing economy hurts the President for sure but it could well hurt Republicans in Congress even more.