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Dems pin 2014 hopes on shutdown blowback

Democrats hope Americans remember who triggered the shutdown when they head to the 2014 polls.
/ Source: hardball

Democrats hope Americans remember who triggered the shutdown when they head to the 2014 polls.

The 2014 midterm elections–right around the corner–could turn out to be not only a referendum on the government shutdown, but on the Republican Party. Democrats believe they’ve been given a gift in the shutdown triggered by a Republican refusal to negotiate on the budget without addressing President Obama’s health care, perhaps best highlighted by Senator Ted Cruz anti-Obamacare stand on the Senate floor. 

“The question will be whether independent voters remember who is responsible,” said Steve Elmendorf, who was chief of staff to the Democrats’ Minority Leader Richard Gephardt during the last government shutdown. “My guess is that they will punish the Republicans.”

The Virginia governor’s race offered a preview of this strategy. Last weekend, Cruz and Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli were speaking at the same event in Richmond. Democrat Terry McAuliffe welcomed the Texas senator with a radio ad.  “Look who’s coming to Virginia this weekend,” the ad says. “Ted Cruz, the Republican Senator from Texas who’s the leader of the government shutdown. Cruz is coming in to campaign for another radical Republican: Ken Cuccinelli.”

“The shutdown hysteria is pouring out in the northern Virginia media market in a very unhelpful way to Republicans,” Elmendorf said.  “It’s a no-win situation for Cuccinelli.”

Charlie Cook of Cook Political Report says the GOP is making a “masochistic effort” to lose power and is “flirting with just that possibility.” Each Congressional midterm election over the last two decades is representative of one overall theme: voter unhappiness with someone or something.

If the past is prologue, then voters act out of an emotional response to issues, events, or people and while Washington is known for strife and theater, voters may finally have reached a breaking point. If that’s true, then Ted Cruz could become the object of their frustration and take it out on Republicans at the polls next November if Democrats are successful messengers.

The 1994 election was largely chalked up to a fear of ‘big government’ invasion and the Clinton administration’s attempt to implement a national healthcare reform package. Four years later, voters rejected congressional Republicans overreach with impeachment proceedings and zealous persecution of President Clinton. While they only lost five seats in the House and the parties split even in the Senate, a wave of discontent forced Speaker Newt Gingrich to resign.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, voters rallied around President George W. Bush’s anti-terror policies and voted out Democrats depicted as “soft” on national security. Republicans gained seats in the House and took back control of the U.S. Senate. But as the war effort in Iraq stalled, and in a reversal of fortunes, faced plummeting popular support for not only the mission but for Bush himself, voters took to the polls in 2006 and sent Republicans packing. Democrats regained control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 12 years.

Democrats defied electoral history in the 2008 presidential year when candidate Barack Obama and his coattails ushered in Democratic gains in the House and Senate only to be thumped in 2010 by a massive GOP wave that saw a historic turnover in congressional control as a result over massive voter anger with President Obama’s landmark healthcare reform law.

“Normally it’s difficult to nationalize midterm elections,” said Elmendorf.  “But the Republicans are looking at a very toxic national brand.”

Off-year elections bring out both party’s most faithful voters. These voters pay attention to the news, keep themselves informed on the issues, and tend to be among the most loyal and partisan. The Obama coalition of independent, youths, and women voters who made the difference in big Democratic years of 2008 and 2012, tend to vote in smaller numbers in non-presidential elections which makes the Democrats’ hill steeper to climb than Republicans.

“Something that might be of concern to Democrats, however, is that in this year’s data, independents are tilting Republican by 18 points, 43 percent to 25 percent,” said Charlie Cook. “This is even more than the 14-point edge that the GOP had in the 2010 polling (40 percent to 26 percent) and dramatically different from the 1-point Democratic edge in 2012 (35 percent to 34 percent),” Cook said.

“We have calculated that Democrats would need to win all votes cast for House by at least 6.8% over Republicans in order to win the barest possible majority, 218 seats,” said David Wasserman, Cook Political Report’s House Editor. “In other words, Democrats would need to win more than 53% of all major-party votes cast for House to take back control.”

But the Democrats’ plan to change this dynamic by making Ted Cruz the motivating factor to turn out the vote and energize its base of core supporters.

“Die-hard Republicans will consider him their best surrogate, and we consider him our best surrogate too,” says Democratic National Committee spokesman Mike Czin. “Wherever he goes now, I think he’s a political liability for all Republicans.”

If Democrats can successfully paint Cruz as the GOP leader and the creator of the strategy resulting in historic government dysfunction the same the way Republicans tied Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi to healthcare in 2010, Democrats stand a chance capturing the 17 seats to gain control of both houses.

“People in the abstract don’t like government, but in reality they like a lot of the services that government provides on a daily basis,” Elmendorf said.  “The American people aren’t stupid. They’ll remember who is responsible.”