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Why Obama is 'spent'; why that's bad for Hillary

Democrats counting on President Barack Obama simply to pass the torch to Hillary Clinton in 2016 may be in for a letdown, if one Washington political expert's analysis is correct.

With the commander-in-chief's approval rating below 40 percent, voters may not be so quick to embrace the former first lady and secretary of state, considered in many circles to be the presumptive Democratic nominee in the next presidential election.

That's according to Greg Valliere, chief political strategist at Potomac Research and a respected voice in analyzing what happens at the intersection of Wall Street and Washington.

He sees Democrats viewing Clinton as not only the likely nominee when Obama's term expires but also his anointed successor, an impression he believes is mistaken.

Hillary Clinton
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Hillary Clinton

Valliere called Obama a "spent force" whom candidates will need to avoid for success in the 2016 election.

(Read more: Obama: I'm sorry for loss of health coverage)

"I have not seen an environment like this in a long time in this city," Valliere said at the Schwab IMPACT 2013 conference in Washington. "Every eight years the country wants a change. It's healthy, it's cathartic."

With Obama under intense fire for the Affordable Care Act website debacle, a series of Middle East missteps and a handful of other controversies, his approval rating has fallen as low as 39 percent in recent days.

(Read more: Obama's standing drops after health-care fiasco, shutdown)

That marks a trough for a president who began in 2009 with a rating above 70 percent, and could make association with Obama kryptonite for Democrats looking to succeed him.

"This country's certainly going to want a change from Barack Obama," Valliere said. Clinton "knows she has to differentiate herself dramatically from this president. ... I don't see Hillary exciting the base."

Clinton's own approval rating has taken a beating recently as well, falling to 46 percent in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

(Read more: Hillary Clinton running ... away from Obama)

So who might step in?

Valliere said Vice President Joe Biden would suffer under the same yoke as Clinton, namely the close identification with Obama.

One possible survivor to rise above the fray: Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren—a suggestion he said makes his clients "throw things at me." Nevertheless, Warren has established herself as independent not afraid to criticize the president.

On the Republican side, the party likely will end up with a dogfight as well.

"If the nomination were held by Christmas, it would be (Kentucky Sen.) Rand Paul," Valliere said.

However, in recent days Paul has found himself the subject of a plagiarism controversy, and beyond that could have a hard time winning over the party's establishment represented by Arizona Sen. John McCain and consultant Karl Rove.

The candidate Valliere thinks is mostly likely to emerge from the fray is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a popular choice as the early favorite for GOP nominee.

(Read more: Christie challenge: Unite tea party and big money)

"The main argument for Chris Christie is so simple: He could get 270 electoral votes," Valliere said. "While he can make a strong argument for winning the general election, his biggest problem is going to be the primary."

(Read more: Get ready for the Obamacare fight in 2014)

Some Republican insiders distrust Christie and view him as too much of a centrist, an image buoyed by his embrace of Obama during Superstorm Sandy on the eve of the 2012 presidential election. A recent best-seller—"Double Down" by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann—also caused waves when it suggested that the reason 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney did not choose Christie as his running mate was because of background issues the governor has.

Romney ultimately chose Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who Valliere figures to be in the mix in three years as well.

—Follow Jeff Cox on Twitter @JeffCoxCNBCcom.

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