Having delved into some deep constitutional issues and philosophical debates the past couple of columns, let’s get into the political nitty-gritty this week, and specifically how this year’s midterm elections are shaping as a good year — a very good year — for Republican House and Senate candidates.
I think in many ways the outlines of the 2014 campaign have already been set: All the polls show that the American people have lost their trust and confidence in President Obama and the Democrats (only in part because of Obamacare’s troubles), and unless the Republicans mess things up over the next eight months, things could break very nicely for the GOP. We could well be looking at another “wave” election like the country saw in 1994, 2006 and 2010. That means picking up seats the Republicans aren’t expected to win, easily holding the House and very possibly taking control of the Senate as well.
Don’t look to foreign policy, the crisis in Ukraine or even the national polls to tell you how things are going to break. Many of the key races will be decided by state and local issues. All the local polls and other indicators I see are in favor of the Republicans. The body politic is moving in a major way, and it’s moving in one direction.
You can see that in the approval ratings for the Democratic Party and for President Obama, who is stuck under 40 percent. You can see it in the amount of money being raised by and the enthusiasm of Republicans at all levels compared to their Democratic rivals. You can see it in something I like to keep a close eye on, the so-called “generic” ballot that asks voters whether they would prefer an unnamed Republican or a Democratic candidate in their House or Senate race. Right now the generic party preference is dead even, which is almost unprecedented in my experience this early in the campaign cycle. (And that’s not even factoring in that the polls tend to be skewed to the Democrats; when we reclaimed the House and gained 65 seats in the historic 1994 vote, the Democrats actually had a 3 percentage point edge in that year’s generic ballot polls.)
As I see it, there are only about 22 to 25 seats seriously in play right now in the House, including some you normally wouldn’t expect to be competitive. Democrats hold some 9 seats in districts carried by Mitt Romney in 2012, and another half-dozen Democrats barely won their 2012 races with 50 percent or less of the vote. California may be a blue state, but the state’s new “blanket primary” election system is giving Republican candidates at least a shot in six or more seats.
The real fight will be for control of the Senate, and here the news right now is just as promising. Republicans need to gain six seats to claim the majority and I count about 15 seats where the GOP has the edge or will be competitive in November. Seven seats now held by Democrats (including three open seats) are in states won by Mr. Romney — Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia. And the polls give Republicans a legitimate shot at eight more Senate pick-ups, in Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Virginia. When you have 15 targets and only need to hit six, that’s makes for a very favorable battle odds.
So can we pencil in a Republican-dominated Congress in 2015? Not so fast. Anything can happen in politics and eight months is a long, long time to hold on to a lead. I worry when I hear some Republicans say the game plan this year is to run against Obamacare and that’s about it. I sincerely hope that’s not the case.
One warning sign in the polls is that the Republican Party and the GOP members of Congress are also not exactly held in high regard by the electorate, barely above 10 percent in the approval ratings. Republicans can’t coast on the other party’s failings. They have to be aggressive. Last week’s special election for an open House seat in Florida was instructive. Obamacare was an issue but the Republican won by being on the offense on a lot of issues. We can’t just let Obamacare carry the load for us.
There is also work to be done in Washington between now and November. With many Democratic lawmakers already showing signs of nervousness being tied too closely to their unpopular president, House Republicans can use the upcoming budget and spending battles to help shape the fall campaign debate. President Obama’s recent budget was essentially a campaign document, calling for more spending, more taxes and more government programs, all designed to highlight the Democratic theme of “inequality” (a political loser, if you ask me.)
House Republicans can and should use the budget debate — and especially the appropriations bills — to force the Democrats to make on-the-record votes about how closely they support the White House’s agenda. Some of the votes really have the power to light up a district and change the debate back home.
And if Republicans are looking for a theme in their strategy, a very powerful one would be to target “lawlessness” and President Obama’s imperial overreach. The president in his executive orders has consistently violated the constitutional idea of checks and balances and the separation of powers. He thinks he’s a king. Just imagine the political pain some Democrats would feel if they were forced to vote on whether to fund each and every one of these executive orders that mock Congress’ legitimate powers under the Constitution.
There have only been a few polls on the issue, but I believe the American people get it. The president is stepping all over the prerogatives of the other branches of government, and a Republican Congress is the only way to restore our government’s system of checks and balances. It’s a message that keeps the GOP on the offense. It’s a strong and confident message we can proudly carry — along with fighting Obamacare — to victory in the fall.