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What the Midterm Election Is Really About: Fear

Image: Voters cast their ballots in Palm Beach County, Fla.

Voters cast their ballots in Palm Beach County, Fl Marc Serota / Getty Images

What this midterm election is really about -- fear: As we’ve said before, the 2014 midterm elections aren’t about any one issue. Health care? Not anymore. The economy? Nope. Foreign policy? Forget about it. But in lieu of a single issue, the election season does have a unifying emotion -- fear. Democrats are doing everything they can to suggest that Republicans are willing to shut down the government, either later this year or in the next Congress. On the other hand, Republicans are invoking fear by signaling that President Obama is shredding the Constitution, whether it’s the GOP lawsuit against Obama or worries of any executive action he might take on immigration. To quote Buffalo Springfield, “Paranoia strikes deep… Into your life it will creep… It starts when you’re always afraid.”

Anxiety over Obama’s likely action on immigration

As for the immigration action that Obama MIGHT take in the coming days, the Washington Post has a good rundown. “Both political parties are in a state of high anxiety about the possibility that President Obama will allow millions of illegal immigrants to remain in the country, fearing that White House action on the issue could change the course of November’s midterm elections. In the past few days, Democratic candidates in nearly every closely fought Senate race have criticized the idea of aggressive action by Obama. Some strategists say privately that it would signal that he has written off the Democrats’ prospects for retaining control of the chamber, deciding to focus on securing his legacy instead. Senior Republicans, meanwhile, have their own worries about a ‘September surprise’ on immigration. They know their volatile party’s tendency to erupt at such moments — including government shutdowns and impeachment threats — and that the GOP brand is even more tattered than the Democratic one.” Folks, here’s the reason why fear is dominating the 2014 landscape: We don’t even KNOW what action the White House will take. And both parties are already fretting over it.

Both parties are boxed in

Strikingly, both parties are boxed in -- message-wise -- on this subject. Latinos and immigration-reform advocates are clamoring for Obama to go big with executive action; in fact, they’re holding protests and acts of civil disobedience in DC today. But Obama has said in the past that he can’t take such action. Per the AP, “In a 2012 interview with Telemundo, Obama defended his decision to defer deportations for children but said he couldn't go any bigger. ‘If we start broadening that, then essentially I would be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally. So that's not an option,’ he said then.” But Republicans are boxed in, too. They’ve gone from their position in 2013 that they can’t be the party of self-deportation (see the RNC post-election autopsy), to having House Republicans vote -- again -- to deport qualified young DREAMers.

Mind the gender gap

We’ve talked and talked about how important the gender gap could be this election season, and Republicans are sounding the alarm. Politico: “A detailed report commissioned by two major Republican groups — including one backed by Karl Rove — paints a dismal picture for Republicans, concluding female voters view the party as ‘intolerant,’ ‘lacking in compassion’ and ‘stuck in the past.’ Women are ‘barely receptive’ to Republicans’ policies, and the party does ‘especially poorly’ with women in the Northeast and Midwest, according to an internal Crossroads GPS and American Action Network report obtained by POLITICO.” More: "The report is blunt about the party’s problems. It says 49 percent of women view Republicans unfavorably, while just 39 percent view Democrats unfavorably. t also found that Republicans “fail to speak to women in the different circumstances in which they live” — as breadwinners, for example. “This lack of understanding and acknowledgment closes many minds to Republican policy solutions,” the report says. The groups urge Republicans to embrace policies that “are not easily framed as driven by a desire to aid employers or ‘the rich.’”

Rand Paul takes on Obama and Hillary by name, but the real target might be folks in his own party

Don’t miss Rand Paul’s Wall Street Journal op-ed, in which he blames the intervention by President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for ISIS’s rise in Syria and Iraq. The headline: “How U.S. Interventionists Abetted the Rise of ISIS.” From the piece: “Shooting first and asking questions later has never been a good foreign policy. The past year has been a perfect example.” But while he singles out Obama and Clinton, make no mistake whom Paul is really talking about -- the hawks in his own party. This is a big difference between Paul and his father: Ron Paul would have mentioned Republicans by name. Rand is making a similar point, but placing the rhetorical fire on Democrats.

Rand Paul: Clinton a 'War Hawk' 0:44

The Year of (Incumbent Governors) Living Dangerously

Two polls out yesterday show GOP governors in trouble: A Marquette survey has Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker trailing challenger Mary Burke 49%-47% among likely voters (though he was leading among registered voters). And an EPIC-MRA poll out of Michigan shows Gov. Rick Snyder trailing Democrat Mark Schauer. 45%-43%. But as the Washington Post’s Reid Wilson notes, 2014 could be the year of the LOSING GOVERNOR. “Walker losing. Snyder losing. Hawaii's Abercrombie gone. Incumbents in Connecticut, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Kansas, South Carolina and Georgia all in deep trouble. We might not remember much about this election, but it could be The Year The Governors Lost. The last time so many governors lost re-election bids: 1994, when six of them got the boot.”

More good health-care news for Democrats

Medicare’s cost is coming down: As it turns out for Democrats, much -- but certainly not all -- of the recent health-care news has been positive. The latest example: The Congressional Budget Office saying that Medicare’s cost in 2019 will be nearly $100 billion less than foreseen four years ago. As the New York Times puts it, this is a big deal. “In more concrete terms, the reduced estimates mean that the federal government’s long-term budget deficit is considerably less severe than commonly thought just a few years ago. The country still faces a projected deficit in future decades, thanks mostly to the retirement of the baby boomers and the high cost of medical care, but it is not likely to require the level of fiscal pain that many assumed several years ago.”

First Read’s Race of the Day: Hutchinson vs. Ross in Arkansas

Arkansas isn’t just home to a red-hot Senate contest; it also features one of the best gubernatorial races of the cycle -- between former Republican Congressman Asa Hutchinson and former Democratic Congressman Mike Ross. Current popular Gov. Mike Beebe (D) is term limited. Polls have consistently shown Ross faring worse against Hutchinson than Democrat Mark Pryor against Republican Tom Cotton in the Senate race. Possibly on the line is the state’s “private option” Medicare expansion, with Ross supporting it and Hutchinson saying it needs to be studied.

Happy (early) Labor Day

To get a head start on the long Labor Day weekend, First Read’s morning column will be off tomorrow, as well as on Monday. We’ll be back on Tuesday -- ready for the sprint to Election Day.