Noah November — People Payback Purges Presidential Poison Pill — Obamacare — Drown Democrats — Freakout — Videos
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Story 2: Noah November — People Payback Purges Presidential Poison Pill — Obamacare — Drown Democrats — Freakout — Videos
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Obama Factor Adds to Fears of Democrats
By JONATHAN MARTIN and ASHLEY PARKER
Democrats are becoming increasingly alarmed about their midterm election fortunes amid President Obama’s sinking approval ratings, a loss in a special House election in Florida last week, and millions of dollars spent by Republican-aligned groups attacking the new health law.
The combination has led to uncharacteristic criticism of Mr. Obama and bitter complaints that his vaunted political organization has done little to help the party’s vulnerable congressional candidates.
The latest in a cascade of bad news came Friday when Scott Brown, a former senator from Massachusetts, announced an exploratory committee to challenge the incumbent Democrat in New Hampshire, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, and when the Republican-aligned “super PAC” American Crossroads said it would spend $600,000 to help his effort.
Earlier, another top-tier Republican recruit, Representative Cory Gardner, decided to challenge Senator Mark Udall of Colorado; the two races create unanticipated opportunities improving Republicans’ chances to take control of the Senate. No prominent Democrats predict their party will win back the House.
Interviews with more than two dozen Democratic members of Congress, state party officials and strategists revealed a new urgency about the need to address the party’s prospects. One Democratic lawmaker, who asked not to be identified, said Mr. Obama was becoming “poisonous” to the party’s candidates. At the same time, Democrats are pressing senior aides to Mr. Obama for help from the political network.
“I’m a prolific fund-raiser, but I can’t compete with somebody who has got 50-some-odd billion dollars,” said Representative Joe Garcia of Florida, a vulnerable first-term member who has already faced more than $500,000 in negative TV ads from third-party conservative groups. “One hopes the cavalry is coming. One hopes the cavalry is coming.”
The gap is yawning. Outside Republican groups have spent about $40 million in this election cycle, compared with just $17 million by Democrats.
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.
Among those raising concerns was Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, who also has a low-key style and warm relationship with Mr. Obama.
“They did not want to hear about health care enrollment,” one source familiar with the meeting said, describing “a high level of anxiety.”
After the loss in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, which Mr. Obama carried in 2012, Representative Steve Israel of New York, the chairman of the House Democratic campaign arm, asked the White House political director, David Simas, for additional help during a Wednesday meeting at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
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.”
Democrats also said that the White House would make Mr. Obama available for additional fund-raisers and that the president was starting to meet with small groups of the party’s largest contributors that could benefit the party’s own super PACS.
“Everyone is trying to send the signal: Don’t get ahead of yourself — 2016 is critical, but 2014 comes first,” said David Plouffe, the president’s former campaign manager.
Mr. Obama’s approval rating of 41 percent in a Wall Street Journal/NBC Poll last week matched that of a New York Times/CBS News survey in February and represents one of the clearest reasons for Democratic malaise. Since the post-World War II era, that measurement has been one of the most accurate predictors of midterm results, and any number below 50 means trouble for the party that holds the White House.
“The state of Democrats is very much tied to the state of the president, and in that regard, these are far from the best of times,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster.
In addition to problems with the health law, the White House is losing the support of Democrats on key appointments such as Mr. Obama’s nominee to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and his choice to be surgeon general. Also last week, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, broke with the administration with a scalding criticism of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Historical trends over all also argue against the president’s party in a sixth year. In 1958, Republicans lost 48 seats in the House and 13 in the Senate; in 2006, Republicans lost 30 seats in the House and six in the Senate. In the past 50 years, only Bill Clinton in 1998, when his approval ratings were much higher than Mr. Obama’s today, did not drag down his party in a second midterm; Democrats picked up five House seats.
Republicans also seem to be benefiting from the argument — reinforced by advertising and by their media surrogates — that Mr. Obama has presided over an activist government that has overreached and proved incompetent.
Most Democrats up for re-election are trying to put some distance between themselves and the president, choosing surrogates such as Mr. Clinton to campaign for them, particularly in the South and parts of the West.
Asked whether Mr. Obama is a liability, Representative Ami Bera, Democrat of California, demurred. “We haven’t really focused much on the president,” he said. “We’re focused on Sacramento County and the folks that are there.”
This unease is also prompting Democrats to speak more candidly about what many see as the root cause for their political difficulties: the bungled unveiling of the health law, in particular the insurance website, and the White House’s failure to market the initiative effectively.
“The rollout left a bad taste in people’s mouth from Day 1, and it’s hard to create a new flavor now,” said Representative Steve Cohen, Democrat of Tennessee.
To stem losses, the Democratic National Committee is focusing on technology and data to give their candidates, as well as the state parties, the latest tools they will need to turn out the vote more effectively and efficiently. And Senate Democrats will try to make races about local issues rather than a referendum on Mr. Obama.
Mr. Obama’s aides say he is not idly watching congressional Democrats drown in a Republican wave. By the end of June, the president will have attended 14 events for Democratic groups.
But on Capitol Hill, Democrats are furious that the same major contributors who enabled Mr. Obama and allied outside groups to raise over $1 billion for his re-election in 2012 are not rallying to ensure the president does not face a Congress controlled entirely by Republicans for his final two years.
Democrats say that the party needs more donors with the means of the California billionaire Thomas F. Steyer, who is helping candidates who support addressing climate change, to protect candidates who backed the health law.
“I’m not in the super PAC business, but we need somebody like a Steyer to get in the fight on the Affordable Care Act,” said Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky. Democrats, he said, are “getting beat to death.”
Anatomy of a Democratic Midterm Freakout
National Democrats are in a near panic — if the media’s highly-attuned panic detectors are any indicator — with a “poisonous” president unable to use his popularity to sway voters, a “screaming siren” warning about mid-term turnout, and Republicans on the offensive on Obamacare. There are a long eight months until November, but Democrats seem unlikely to get much sleep over the interim.
There are (at least!) six reasons why.
1. The midterms were always going to be bad for Democrats because of turnout.
It’s important to remember that the midterm elections were always going to be difficult for the Democrats. Lower turnout elections usually favor Republicans, whose older, wealthier constituents vote more reliably. One large reason that Republican David Jolly won the special election in Florida last week was thatturnout was very, very low.
On Bloomberg TV over the weekend, Obama advisor David Plouffe didn’t mince words. “We have a turnout issue,” he said. “This is a screaming siren that the same problems that afflicted us [in 2010] could happen again.” In 2010 — a low turnout election that strongly favored the nascent Tea Party movement — Democrats lost 63 seats. Republicans are unlikely to make that much progress again simply because they did so well four years ago. But Democrats are unlikely to make much headway — and certainly won’t retake the Chamber. “No prominent Democrats predict their party will win back the House,” The New York Times drily notes.
2. President Obama is near all-time lows on his approval ratings.
That Times article also contains a quote explaining one of the key reasons Democrats are freaked out. “One Democratic lawmaker, who asked not to be identified, said Mr. Obama was becoming ‘poisonous’ to the party’s candidates.” Presidential popularity can be a key tool for ginning up support on the campaign trail. And being tied to an unpopular president can be an anchor.
Last week, an NBC / Wall Street Journal poll identified the poison. Obama’s approval is at a record low in the surveys, and voters are wary of voting for people who are seen as solidly supportive of his administration. Democrats are eager to get Obama’s vaunted-but-diminished voter engagement apparatus involved in their races, but Mr. Obama is welcome to remain in Washington, thank you very much.
3. Republicans have figured out how to walk the line on Obamacare.
In the wake of Jolly’s win last week, Republicans clearly feel emboldened to return to the attack on Obamacare, a policy that (obviously not objective) GOP Chair Reince Priebus called “complete poison out there in the field.” As Reuters notes, the win “has emboldened Republicans to press their case hard against Obama’s signature first-term achievement.”
Reuters reports that a Democratic pollster sent a memo around Capitol Hill after last week’s race, explaining that “‘keeping parts’ of the Affordable Care Act that work and ‘fixing those that don’t’ drew higher numbers than ‘the Republican message of repeal.'”
Which is why House Republicans, after 50 votes attempting to curtail the law, have shifted toward a package of fixes. The Washington Post‘s Robert Costa describesthe proposal as a sort of greatest hits of Republican reform proposals. And the rationale for releasing it now is obvious. “In meetings with Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) last week,” Costa reports, “House leadership allies cast Florida as a sign of good things to come in November. But they also cautioned that Republicans needed to offer a clearer alternative.”
It’s important to note that the caucus’ right-most wing, the group that largely prompted those 50 votes, is skeptical. But in order to rebut the Democrats on the campaign trail, Republicans only need an alternative in-hand, not necessarily for anything to pass.
4. Outside Republican groups are outspending their opposition.
A key concern from Democrats is how badly they’re being outspent. While Jolly and the Republicans were outspent by his Democratic rival Alex Sink and her allies in Florida, that’s not the case nationally. The Times reports that “Republican groups have spent about $40 million in this election cycle, compared with just $17 million by Democrats” — largely focused on a repeal of Obamacare. The head of the Democrats’ House campaign committee, New York Rep. Steve Israel, put it bluntly. “Florida 13 doesn’t keep me up at night,” he said, “but the aggregate Republican super PAC money makes me toss and turn.”
“I’m a prolific fund-raiser,” Florida Rep. Joe Garcia told the Times, “but I can’t compete with somebody who has got 50-some-odd billion dollars.”
5. Republicans are expanding the number of races where they want to compete.
The money the Democrats have will also need to be spent in places they would rather not have to spend it. On Friday, former Massachusetts senator Scott Brownentered the Senate race in New Hampshire, forcing the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee arm to have to spend money in a year when they’re already desperate to hold existing seats. Brown trails, but the DSCC would obviously rather spend that money holding embattled seats in Louisiana or Arkansas — or unseating Sen. Mitch McConnell in Kentucky.
6. Democrats freaking out will only make all of the above problems worse.
In The Washington Post, columnist E. J. Dionne despairs, “Listlessness is bad politics. Defensiveness is poor strategy. And resignation is never inspiring.”
Obama and his party are in danger of allowing the Republicans to set the terms of the 2014 elections, just as they did four years ago. The fog of nasty and depressing advertising threatens to reduce the electorate to a hard core of older, conservative voters eager to hand the president a blistering defeat.
On one hand, it’s the turnout argument, that Republicans will be excited about turning out in November and Democrats won’t. But in a larger sense, Dionne’s message is that Democrats need to change their attitude, and quickly. Which, of course, is like telling someone suffering from depression to get over it. The problem runs a little deeper than that.
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