It seems to be consensus that this election has become a referendum on Barack Obama. That has some upsides for the Democrats: It means the press will air an Obama speech in its entirety while cutting off a McCain talk in favor of a bear named Li'l Smokey, for one.
But it's worth remembering that downticket Democrats had an entirely different kind of referendum in mind for this year: a(nother) referendum on George W. Bush. In very recent polling, New Hampshire Senator John Sununu, once thought to be a totally lost cause for the GOP, has pulled even or ahead* of his Democratic challenger -- and in a story published this weekend in the Union-Leader, New Hampshire political analysts guessed it was largely because Bush, who New Hampshire Democrats have tried to hang around Sununu's neck like an albatross, is fading from the news.
Now, figuring out how Obama will affect downticket races is like trying to predict the crazy chain reaction set off by a pinball. (In nearby Connecticut, for instance, a pro-Obama urban voter surge may finally doom Republican Chris Shays.) But we tend to assume the immense interest in Obama, specifically, only works as a positive. In some cases -- where he and his quest distract from Democratic efforts to tie the local GOPer to Bush -- it might not be.
*Update: Sorry, I misread New Hampshire polls. I don't think there's a poll that has Sununu ahead. Rather, he's closing the gap -- a University of New Hampshire poll has him in a statistical tie, while Rasmussen has him down by 5 where he formerly trailed by 15.