“2014 Midterm Elections”: With So Much At Stake, This Coming Election Day Is Not A Time For Eligible Voters To Stay Home
With less than 10 weeks to go before the midterm Congressional elections Americans in general are frustrated with Washington. National polls show that about three quarters of all Americans disapprove of the way Congress is doing its job. By comparison, about half of those Americans polled disapprove of President Barack Obama’s handling of his job.
Sunday’s New York Post reported that 163 laws have been passed and signed by the president since this two-year term of Congress began in January 2013. That is far lower than the 284 laws that were passed by the 2011-2013 session, which is an all time record for fewest bills passed. Congress passed 386 laws during the 2009-2011 session. Former Representative Lee Hamilton (R-IN) told the Post, “I’ve never seen it any worse in terms of public esteem for the Congress. I can’t find anybody who says a good word about it.”
Despite Congress’s lack of productivity, and as outrageous as it may seem, it appears that most incumbents will be reelected in November. Conventional wisdom is that while most Americans want to get rid of Congress, they nonetheless support their own representative. This is especially true during midterm elections because voter turnout is often very low, which gives incumbents an advantage. But both parties are leaving nothing to chance, as a record amount of campaign dollars will be poured into this election, surpassing the $3.6 billion spent in 2010.
Republicans currently hold a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives, 233-199; there are three vacant seats. The GOP expects to expand its majority in the House. Meanwhile, Democrats currently hold a majority in the Senate. But of the 36 Senate seats in play, 21 of them held by Democrats, while 15 are held by Republicans. If the GOP picks up six Senate seats this midterm they will be in the majority in both houses of Congress. Most experts, including Nate Silver, of the election site FiveThirtyEight, give Republicans a slight edge to take those seats and become the majority party in the Senate.
The Republicans are targeting the seven Democratic seats that are up in states where Mitt Romney beat President Obama in the 2012 presidential election. They are also going after four additional Democratic seats in states where the president remains unpopular. Republicans will do all they can to make this election about President Obama’s unpopularity.
Domestically the president has been attacked for executive actions he has taken to bypass the blockade that Congress has become. For example, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who himself has presidential aspirations, has regularly attacked the president, telling Fox News “He believes somehow that he’s become a monarch or an emperor that can basically ignore the law and do whatever he wants.” On the other hand, Republicans have attacked President Obama for being disengaged and “leading from behind” on foreign policy. The president’s recent comment the he does not have a strategy on dealing with ISIS in Syria was seized upon by Republicans. Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), said on CBS Sunday, “What I want to hear from the president is that he has a strategy to finish ISIS off, to defeat ISIS.”
Congressional and Senate Democratic candidates have tried to localize their elections, but Republicans are focusing on President Obama in an effort to energize their base. So Democrats are trying to mobilize minority voters, especially African-Americans, who generally don’t vote in midterms. Party activists are using the shooting in Ferguson, Mo., and conservative calls to impeach the president, to mobilize Blacks. An increase in the number of Southern Blacks helped Democrats during the 1998 midterm election, when President Bill Clinton was under heavy fire from the right.
Ironically, the one Republican Senator who is in the toughest fight to be reelected is the man who has the most to gain if Republicans win majority control. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), the Senate minority leader, has done all he can to obstruct and block the agenda of President Obama since the day he was sworn in to office in 2009. McConnell is facing a vigorous challenge from Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. McConnell is not popular in Kentucky, but a recent state poll shows he has the edge. Lundergan Grimes is making McConnell’s failings in Congress the issue. But McConnell is tying his opponent to President Obama.
Should Republicans take control of both houses the legislative process will grind to a halt. Anything the Republicans pass, like efforts to defund Obamacare, will be vetoed by the president. Meanwhile, Congressional investigations into the so-called scandals surrounding the IRS and Benghazi will intensify. The partisan divide will widen as Republicans try to score points before the 2016 Presidential Elections.
Because so much is at stake, this coming election day is not a time for eligible voters to stay home.
By: Joe Peyronnin, The Huffington Post Blog, September 1, 2014
Meanwhile, back at the ranch — as foreign events hog the spotlight — why haven’t Republicans sealed the deal on the coming election?
When summer began, the conventional wisdom was that the GOP sorta kinda probably maybe would take control of the Senate in November. As summer ends — and it hasn’t been great for President Obama, which means it also hasn’t been anything for the Democratic Party to write home about — that same equivocal assessment still holds.
The Real Clear Politics Web site, which aggregates polls, rates nine Senate races as tossups. If incumbents Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas manage to scrape out wins, the Web site calculates, Democrats will retain a 51 to 49 edge and Harry Reid gets to keep his job as majority leader.
Let’s say that one of those Democrats falters — or even two. It seems entirely possible that Bruce Braley could defeat Republican Joni Ernst in an Iowa race that polls show as a dead heat. Democrat Michelle Nunn may be gaining ground on David Perdue in Georgia, although a recent poll showing Nunn in the lead is probably an outlier. And the man who wants Reid’s job, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, is in a surprisingly tough race against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.
All in all, you still have to give the edge to the GOP. But it is a surprisingly narrow and tenuous advantage in a year when some analysts were predicting a wave election in favor of Republicans.
So far, just ripples. Why could that be?
This time, the GOP managed not to nominate candidates whose views are so extreme — or so wacky — that they might effectively concede what ought to be safe seats. The party establishment made ideological concessions to the tea party wing, but managed to insist on nominees who have a chance of being elected. No Republican candidate has spoken of solving problems with “Second Amendment remedies,” as Sharron Angle did in 2010, or run a television ad to declare “I’m not a witch” a la Christine O’Donnell that same year.
The candidates may be plausible, but they’re running on the wrong issues. Rather, the wrong issue: the Affordable Care Act.
“Repeal Obamacare” remains a rallying cry for the GOP’s activist base — perhaps less for the law itself than the president for whom it is named. But for independent voters, undoing health-care reform is not the sure-fire issue Republicans hoped it would be.
The program is in effect. Some people who previously could not obtain health insurance now have it. Most people are unaffected. Despite all the dire GOP predictions, the sky has not fallen.
Yet Republican candidates say otherwise, describing a dystopian breakdown of the nation’s health-care system that simply has not occurred. And they go all tongue-tied when asked how they could manage to repeal Obamacare in the face of a certain veto by Obama — or, more tellingly, just what they would put in place if they somehow succeeded.
Much of the news dominating the headlines this summer has been taking place overseas — Russia’s slow-motion invasion of Ukraine, the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, whatever it is that seems to be happening in Libya. Blasting Obama for failed leadership is a guaranteed applause line, but GOP candidates are not even trying to articulate what the president should be doing differently. Airstrikes in Syria? Ground troops back to Iraq? Anybody want to speak up?
Nor has the party developed an economic message that goes beyond the familiar standbys: tax cuts, spending cuts, deregulation. The public is clearly not thrilled with the state of the economy — as reflected in Obama’s low approval ratings — but growth is up and unemployment is down. The claim that Democratic policies inevitably lead to ruin rings hollow.
Still, Democrats have an uphill fight, even if it’s not nearly as steep as the GOP hoped. To hold the Senate, segments of the Democratic coalition who often skip midterm elections — African Americans, Latinos, younger voters — will have to turn out. And polls show that Republicans maintain an edge in enthusiasm.
Which brings me to the wild card: immigration.
Obama is considering executive action that could give legal status to thousands or even millions of undocumented immigrants. Would that inflame conservatives and drive Republican turnout through the roof? Would it excite the Democratic faithful, especially Latinos, giving them a reason to vote?
This thing is unpredictable. And that’s a surprise.
By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post,September 1, 2014
Tens of thousands of protesters make for much better television than court documents, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be paying attention to Scott Walker’s scandal-plagued re-election bid this year—even if it is unaccompanied by the hoopla of his 2012 recall election. In that year, Walker was able to best a weak Democratic candidate in an election where some voters backed him because of concerns about whether a recall was appropriate, and not because they supported his union-busting legislation.
This year, the most recent poll has Walker trailing the Democratic nominee, Mary Burke, by two percentage points among likely voters, and the embattled GOP incumbent has faced new allegations that he illegally coordinated outside spending during his recall election with groups like the Wisconsin Club for Growth. But while the 2012 recall excited liberals across the country (it seemed at times during that election that MSNBC’s Ed Schultz had moved to the Badger State), this year liberals can barely muster a shrug.
Part of this ennui, as Noam Scheiber at The New Republic points out, is that it’s not in anyone’s interest to make a big deal about Walker, despite the fact that he might be running for president in a couple years. After losing to him in 2012, liberals have a kind of political PTSD when it comes to Wisconsin, and are afraid of raising the stakes in the campaign.
Plus, Burke is a relatively moderate former business executive, which makes her a good candidate for a general election, but not exactly the best one to excite the progressive base. And without shots of hordes of protesters like the kind that swarmed the state capital in Madison two years ago, the campaign becomes far less compelling for television, and is thus unlikely to receive much national coverage.
The outrage that Walker is provoking is of a less exciting variety this time around. In 2012, there were teachers and small-town government workers made furious by Walker’s efforts to quash collective bargaining rights for public employees. In 2014, however, there is far less uproar over Walker potentially violating campaign finance laws to encourage corporations to give unlimited donations to the Wisconsin Club for Growth—and only the Wisconsin Club for Growth. In an email to a consultant for that group who also served as an adviser to the governor in 2011, a Walker aide emphasized that the incumbent wanted “all the issue advocacy efforts run thru one group to ensure correct messaging.”
These efforts are further illustrated in an email that Kelly Rindfleisch, a former Walker aide, sent the governor before a fundraising trip in 2011, which told him to “stress that donations to [Wisconsin Club for Growth] are not disclosed and can accept corporate donations without limits.”
Rindfleisch, who has since been convicted of misconduct in office as a result of one of the many investigations surrounding Walker, added that the governor should stress to donors that he could accept corporate contributions that wouldn’t be reported.
A national Democratic consultant familiar with the race took pains to point out what a big prize Walker would be for the left. The Wisconsin governor “is very vulnerable, in a very dangerous spot for an incumbent and the fact that he hasn’t committed to serve out his next term means that what happens in Wisconsin is likely to have an effect on ’16.” But most importantly for Democrats, knocking off Walker would be a major consolation prize if they lose control of the Senate in 2014.
With prospects of holding on to a majority in the Senate uncertain, Walker offers Democrats an enviable scalp to wave in November. After all, he has been one of the most divisive governors in the country, and serves in a key swing state. Plus, Walker evokes so much anger among parts of the Democratic base that would lessen the bite of potential losses in national races.
Although some national progressive groups are starting to focus on the race—Democracy for America announced Thursday that it was backing Burke to “put a stop to the flow of extreme right-wing legislation that has been poisoning” Wisconsin under Walker—the attention is still far less than in 2012, when outside Democratic groups flooded the Badger State with money. The result is that Walker still has a significant fundraising advantage heading into final two months of campaigning.
The question, though, is whether the incumbent can hold on and win in the swing state. Because while Walker may savor the absence of protesters demonstrating against him, his poll numbers are still worse than they were in 2012.
By: Ben Jacobs, The Daily Beast, August 28, 2014
One week ago, when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) gave an interview vowing that a Republican Senate majority would attach partisan riders to spending bills in an effort to blackmail President Obama into rolling back his agenda — a tactic that would almost certainly lead to another government shutdown — his campaign tried to walk back his remarks.
“Evidently Alison Lundergan Grimes’ interpretation of how the U.S. Senate works is that senators must rubber-stamp President Obama’s agenda or the government shuts down,” McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore said in response to the Democratic candidate’s critique of McConnell’s strategy. “Unlike Grimes’ commitment to the Obama agenda, Senator McConnell will fight for Kentucky priorities whether the president is interested in them or not.”
But new audio obtained by The Nation confirms that McConnell meant exactly what he said. In a June 15 speech to a Republican donor conference led by Charles and David Koch, McConnell was secretly recorded laying out largely the same case that he pitched to Politico last week:
So in the House and Senate, we own the budget. So what does that mean? That means that we can pass the spending bill. And I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We’re going to go after them on health care, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board (inaudible). All across the federal government, we’re going to go after it.
To be clear: If Republicans load must-pass appropriations bills with riders to undo the Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, or any other key Democratic achievements, President Obama will veto them. Unless Republicans relent, the government will shut down. McConnell’s campaign (and some impartial observers like Bloomberg View columnist Jonathan Bernstein) may claim that that isn’t the minority leader’s intent, but without the shutdown threat, Republicans would have no leverage to “go after” the Democratic agenda.
McConnell had plenty else to say at the Koch gathering (for example, he remarked that “the worst day of my political life was when President George W. Bush signed McCain-Feingold into law,” suggesting that campaign finance reform outranks 9/11 on his list of disasters). But the promise of more congressional brinksmanship will likely prove to be the key takeaway, given the obvious political implications.
Nobody should be surprised that McConnell is eager to escalate a confrontation with the White House. After all, he’s far from the only Republican to promise it. Earlier this week, Marco Rubio made similar remarks with regard to immigration. Over in the House, startlingly influential Rep. Steve King (R-IA) did the same.
Republicans are being quite honest about what the GOP would do with control of Congress. At this point, the only question is whether voters will listen.
By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, August 27, 2014
Be warned: “Dems In Disarray” is on its way back. That phrase is familiar to you if you’re a reader of the political press, because it has appeared in headlines so often it became a cliché long ago. The bitter joke among professional liberals is that political reporters are so predisposed to write about Democratic infighting that it will be applied to anything; if two Democratic members of Congress go to lunch and one orders a hamburger while the other gets a chicken sandwich, the reporter at the next table will start writing his “Dems In Disarray!” story.
Or at least that was the case for as long as anyone could remember, until Republican intra-party conflicts became so intense that they dominated everyone’s attention. And for the last few years, Democrats have been uncharacteristically unified, in both their policy goals and their tactics. But with likely losses in the upcoming midterm elections, followed by the winding down of the Obama presidency, we’re going to be hearing more and more about internal Democratic disagreement.
The stories are just starting to trickle in now. Here’s Politico, writing about how state and local Democratic officials are “going rogue” and taking on the Obama administration over policy. There are the endless stories about the Democrats wishing the President would play less golf, and the stories about Democrats who wish he would invite them along. As we get closer to November, we’ll probably be seeing more and more about Dem candidates “distancing” themselves from Obama, doing what’s best for themselves instead of what’s (supposedly) best for their party.
It isn’t that there’s something inaccurate about these stories in and of themselves. But if there is a change afoot, it has less to do with any sudden increase in Democratic disagreement than it does with some completely predictable political factors.
The first is the midterm election. Democrats could do almost everything right from here to November and still have a terrible night on November 4th. Redistricting and a more efficient distribution of voters have left Republicans with a built-in advantage in the House, so that they can hold on to a comfortable majority even if more people vote for Democrats for Congress, as happened in 2012. In the Senate, Democrats are defending more seats than Republicans this year, many of which are in conservative states. The Democrats running in those states would have to distance themselves from any Democratic president, but particularly one who’s so hated by conservative voters.
Then there’s the fact that the Obama presidency is approaching its final two years. At such a time, every ambitious Democrat is going to look for ways to forge a unique identity and elevate their profile. That means both more disagreement with the White House, and more competition for attention between Democrats, even those who aren’t running for president.
So there may in fact be less Democratic unity than we’ve seen in recent years. At the same time, it’ll be easy to make too much of the supposed disarray. At the moment it doesn’t look like there’s going to be much of a contest for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, a truly remarkable fact. While there are some policy differences within the party, you don’t see organized factions squaring off against each other in any meaningful way. There may be a “fight for the soul of the GOP” going on, but Democrats aren’t doing much soul-fighting.
And while there is some simmering displeasure with the President over issues like government surveillance and immigration, his approval among Democrats actually remains fairly high. His current approval among Democrats — around 80 percent — is where he’s been for significant portions of his presidency. That approval was in the 90s in the initial honeymoon period, then stayed around 80 percent for most of 2010 and 2011, then rose back up in the election year of 2012 as partisan loyalties became more salient, then settled back again. As a point of comparison, George W. Bush’s approval among Republicans fell as low as 55 percent in the final months of his presidency.
So when you see those “Dems In Disarray” headlines, not just this year but in the waning days of the Obama presidency, keep in mind that unless there’s a dramatic change, there won’t actually be anywhere near the level of “disarray” that these accounts suggest.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, August 25, 2014