One year ago, President Barack Obama delivered his inaugural address at the foot of the Capitol, laid out an agenda of “big plans” for his administration, and chided “cynics” who “fail to understand that the ground has shifted beneath them.” One year later, as voters head to the ballot box in Massachusetts, it seems that the ground very well may have shifted under President Obama.

And that ground shift might spell trouble for the President’s health care magnum opus.

In a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll released yesterday, President Obama’s approval ratings have “plummeted to 50%, down from 64% after he took office,” giving him an average 57% approval rating for the year and placing Obama “nearly last in the ranking of former presidents’ first-year job approval averages.”

Why the dissatisfaction? For President Obama, “big plans” meant a year of “big government” in the form of the nationalization of private corporations, hundreds of billions of dollars in new federal spending and a massive government takeover of health care. Those liberal policies haven’t sat well with a majority of Americans.

The Washington Post reports that “By 58 percent to 38 percent, Americans said they prefer smaller government and fewer services to larger government with more services.” As the Post reports, that’s 15 percent more people favoring smaller government over larger government since Sen. Obama won the Democratic nomination in June 2008.

Those anti-big-government sentiments could put the kibosh on President Obama’s hallmark health care legislation if today’s special election for the late Edward Kennedy’s Senate seat doesn’t go the President’s way. Make no mistake, the Massachusetts election is very much about national issues – and President Obama’s liberal agenda. Health care came to dominate the Massachusetts race, and Republican candidate Scott Brown has made no bones about being the deciding vote to block Democrats’ health care reform legislation.

A Brown victory would be a game-changer in the Democratic Congress’ efforts to pass health care legislation. And that’s a distinct possibility, given the latest Politico/InsideAdvantage poll that puts Brown up over Democrat Martha Coakley by a 52-43 margin. Politico reports:

“A defeat by Martha Coakley for the seat held by the late Edward M. Kennedy would be embarrassing for the party — and potentially debilitating, since Democrats will lose their filibuster-proof, 60-vote hold on the Senate.”

With so much on the line, it’s no wonder that President Obama swooped-in to support Coakley in a last-minute get-out-the-vote effort, but it’s questionable whether his Sunday campaign stop or his TV ad on her behalf will be enough to get her across the finish line. In fact, Democrats are already circling the horses in anticipation of a defeat in the Bay State.

The Hill reports that Democrats are “eyeing a parliamentary maneuver to sidestep the Senate’s filibuster rules to pass healthcare if they lose their supermajority.” And Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Monday, “Let’s remove all doubt, we will have healthcare one way or another.”

Likewise, Republican leadership are expecting Democrats to pull out the stops to pass health care reform in the event of a Brown victory. “It’s pretty clear that they’re going to use every trick imaginable … to shove this down the throats of the American people,” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said on Monday.

Heritage’s Director of U.S. Senate Relations, Brian Darling, explains that if Brown wins today, Democrats will have two options:

“One would be for the House to take up and pass Obamacare with reconciliation being used as a technical corrections mechanism to allow Democrats to avoid a filibuster in the Senate. Option two would be to drop Obamacare and finally understand that the American people want Congress to scrap this version of health care reform and start over.”

The first option might give President Obama a much-needed legislative victory for his January 27 State of the Union address, but dropping Obamacare and starting over from scratch would be a victory for the American people. The question is whether President Obama understands – or cares – that the ground has shifted beneath his feet, too.

Quick Hits: