With his new emphasis on creating government policy through executive fiat, President Obama is betting he will fire up his Democratic base more than he will infuriate Republican voters in this year’s midterm elections.
Democrats increasingly are abandoning their dream of winning back the House in November. Even Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said last week that she can’t “confidently predict” it. But the president needs Democrats to hold on to the Senate, where a swing of six seats would give Republicans control, to have any hope of achieving more of his policy goals and reshaping the judiciary during his final two years in office.
The presidential party historically loses congressional seats in the midterms, and Mr. Obama’s chances of defying that trend don’t look good. The troubled launch last year of Obamacare has Democrats on the defensive and Republicans re-energized.
“There’s a 30-point difference in terms of key Republican constituencies and key Democratic constituencies in their intensity of desire to vote,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster. “The Republicans are fired up and ready to go.”
Obama losing the young
“There’s great indication now that the disappointment and disillusionment with Obamacare is spilling over into the view of government generally among youth,” Ms. Conway said. “If one of their major goals was to get youth to think about the government in a more benevolent, generous, accepting terms, they’re failing.”
White House aides say Mr. Obama wants to forge “a year of action” after his agenda came to a halt in Congress last year. In his State of the Union address last week, the president said he would use his executive authority “whenever and wherever I can” to move forward with initiatives such as raising the minimum wage for federal contractors and establishing a system of government-backed, interest-bearing retirement accounts available to all American workers.
Democrats also believe the president’s move will re-energize the party’s base at the polls in November.
“I think the executive action is an absolute plus in terms of energizing Democrats,” said Ms. Lake. “The minimum wage is a great issue to energize Democrats. Democrats have been just sick and tired of doing nothing and thinking that nothing’s going to happen. Democrats want government to do things, and they want their president to do things.”
While turnout affects House races more often than Senate contests, strategists say, turnout could make the difference in a handful of Senate races including in Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina and Alaska.
Could strategy backfire?
Republicans say presidential action without Congress could backfire and motivate GOP voters.
“I think what it does is fire up Republicans to turn out to make sure they put in a Senate majority that can stop Obama,” said Republican pollster Jon McHenry, vice president of North Star Opinion Research in Alexandria, Va. “You’re going to see Republicans all up in arms that Obama’s going against the Constitution and trying to be a king and a dictator. It helps ramp up Republican turnout that was already probably going to be pretty good.”
Congressional Republicans are trying to rein in Mr. Obama’s executive power with lawsuits and legislation. Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, has accused Mr. Obama of running an “imperial presidency.” Rep. Tom Rice, South Carolina Republican, has proposed more aggressive legal action with a resolution called the STOP Act — for Stop This Overreaching Presidency.