First Thoughts: Democrats Sound Alarm About November

Image: Barack Obama

President Barack Obama walks along the West Wing colonnade of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, March 11, 2014, before boarding the Marine One helicopter for a short flight to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., where he will travel to New York City for Democratic National Committee events. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) Charles Dharapak / AP

Democrats sound the alarm about November … Scott Brown’s four challenges to overcome in his all-but-certain race for New Hampshire’s Senate seat… Obama handcuffed by the standoff in Ukraine… Where’s the OFA cavalry?... Anniversary Day for the RNC’s “Growth and Opportunity Project”… And hooray for Savannah Guthrie!
Democrats sound the alarm
Prominent figures still associated with President Obama and his White House team are sounding the alarm bell that the Democratic Party could lose the Senate -- if not more -- in November. “We have a turnout issue,” former White House senior adviser David Plouffe told Bloomberg’s Al Hunt after the Democrats’ loss in last week’s special congressional election in Florida. “This is a screaming siren that the same problems that afflicted us” [in 2010] could face us again.” Then on “Meet the Press” yesterday, former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that the Democrats’ control of the Senate was “definitely” in danger. “[Republicans have] got to pick up six seats, which is not a small number. But what gives them a huge advantage, obviously, is the states that they’re in … in Louisiana and in North Carolina and Montana, places that the president didn’t do well.” As we wrote last week, Democrats right now are lacking a message that galvanizes their voters. And fear can sometimes be a powerful motivating issue. (Remember in 2012 when the Obama campaign would send those fundraising solicitations anytime a poll showed Romney either close or ahead?) Then again, as Gibbs suggested, fear from reliable Democratic voters might not be enough in states like Alaska, Arkansas, and Louisiana. But is fear enough to save some of the blue and purple seats?
Scott Brown’s four challenges
Amid these Democratic worries, former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R) appears all but certain to challenge incumbent New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) after he announced forming an exploratory committee for the seat, and after he began a listening tour around the state. While Brown starts out as the underdog (he trails by 13 points, according to the most recent poll), his candidacy only increases the odds of the GOP picking up the Senate. It also diverts Democratic resources (Scott Brown running is bad news for the Mark Pryors and Mary Landrieus). But Brown has four challenges to overcome. The first is the carpetbagger charge -- that he served as Massachusetts’ senator through 2012 and is now running for New Hampshire senator. Of course, we’ve seen numerous carpetbaggers win Senate seats before (Hillary Clinton, Robert Kennedy). Yet Brown’s second challenge is we’ve haven’t seen this in our lifetimes -- someone serve as a senator from TWO DIFFERENT states. “According to the U.S. Senate Historical Office, only two senators have represented multiple states in the history of the chamber: Sen. James Shields (D) served as senator from Illinois, Minnesota and Missouri in the 19th century and Waitman Thomas Willey who represented Virginia and West Virginia roughly around the same time,” TPM writes. (The last person to try this feat is ALSO running for this very seat, Bob Smith!) A third challenge is the GOP primary Brown must contend with; remember that Kelly Ayotte had to scratch and claw her way to a primary victory in 2010. And Brown’s fourth challenge is that he’s hardly a fresh face. A Brown-vs.-Shaheen race would essentially make New Hampshire voters have to pick between two incumbents.
Obama handcuffed by Ukraine
All of these midterm developments come as President Obama finds himself handcuffed by another foreign-policy matter -- this time the geopolitical standoff in Ukraine. The problem for the White House is that the matter is fundamentally unresolvable: Even if conflict is averted, it won’t happen in a way that many Americans find satisfying or triumphant. In other words, there will be no “killing Osama bin Laden” moment here, even if the White House pretty much gets what it wants. On Sunday, the White House released a readout of Obama’s phone call with Vladimir Putin’s after Crimea’s controversial vote to annex with Russia. “President Obama emphasized that the Crimean ‘referendum,’ which violates the Ukrainian constitution and occurred under duress of Russian military intervention, would never be recognized by the United States and the international community,” the White House’s readout said. “He emphasized that Russia's actions were in violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and that, in coordination with our European partners, we are prepared to impose additional costs on Russia for its actions. President Obama underscored that there remains a clear path for resolving this crisis diplomatically, in a way that addresses the interests of both Russia and the people of Ukraine.” The other problem for the White House: With a midterm election to be focused largely on domestic matters, the president finds himself stuck dealing with foreign policy.
Where’s the OFA cavalry?
As the president finds himself handcuffed by a foreign-policy crisis, the New York Times asked this question over the weekend: Where is OFA to help Democrats in 2014? “When two senior White House officials — Jennifer Palmieri, the communications director, and Phil Schiliro, the health care adviser — went to the Capitol late last month to address Senate Democrats about the Affordable Care Act, they were met with angry questions about why Mr. Obama’s well-funded advocacy group, Organizing for Action, was not airing commercials offering them cover on the health law.” As we’ve written before, Democrats have already voiced concerns about OFA diverting money away from the DNC. And now comes this: OFA has raised millions of dollars, but doesn’t seem to be rushing in to help endangered Democrats. The Times pieces adds, “Responding to these concerns, several Democrats said Friday that Organizing for Action would cut back its fund-raising activities so the group would not be in competition with the candidates for donors. Katie Hogan, a spokeswoman for it, said, ‘We understand and expect that some of our more than 420,000 contributors will shift their focus to their local campaigns during the midterm season.’” So OFA’s response here isn’t that it’s coming in to help; rather, it’s that it will get out of the way.
Anniversary Day for the RNC’s “Growth and Opportunity Project”
Today is the one-year anniversary of the RNC’s “Growth and Opportunity Project” post-mortem after the GOP’s losses in 2012. The RNC will be holding a 1:00 pm ET conference call on this anniversary. Also as part of this one-year anniversary, the RNC is up with a six-figure cable and digital ad buy featuring a handful of minorities and young voters explaining why they are Republicans. By the way, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is holding her own press conference at 10:00 am ET to mark the anniversary of the GOP report.
Hooray for Savannah Guthrie!
Finally, we want to celebrate the great news for our dear friend, NBC’s Savannah Guthrie, who 1) got married over the weekend, and 2) is now expecting. We’re so happy for you, Savannah and Mike!
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