It's not as if Democrats aren't already looking at a tough election in 2014. They have lots of red state Senate seats to defend and few obvious GOP targets in the House. They have to prepare for the likelihood of a rough and messy implementation of the health care law they supported. Now pile on the latest White House troubles--IRS investigation of conservative non-profit groups and the Department of Justice secretly obtaining AP phone records--and you have the makings of the fourth "change election" in five years.
For all the talk about the GOP's demographic problems in 2012, Democrats have their own demographic issues in 2014. Not only do they have to win in deep red states, but they have to find a way to reverse the longstanding tradition of their strongest supporters staying home in mid-term elections. Young voters, for example, dropped off 6 percent between 2008 and 2010, while older voters (those over 65 years old) increased their vote share by five points in the 2010 midterms. Lake Research Partners, a Democratic polling firm, noted in a report to the Voter Participation Center that unmarried women--a group that overwhelmingly supports Democrats--has grown in size to over 55 million--a ten million increase since 2000. However, 10 million fewer unmarried women came out to vote in 2010 than did in 2008.
These voters aren't going to abandon Democrats or President Obama. But, they are also likely to be the most turned-off by the current political environment and less likely to turn-out in November. Those who are most likely to be emboldened, of course, are those who already predisposed to support Republicans.
Meanwhile, Organizing for Action, the Obama campaign operation-turned-grassroots organization, is designed to promote the Obama Administration's agenda, not to turn out Democratic voters in 2014. Besides, not all the Obama agenda items aggressively promoted by the OFA benefit Democrats in red states--i.e., background checks for gun owners.
So, what is a vulnerable Democrat up in 2014 to do?
One Democratic strategist suggested that we should "expect congressional 2014ers to loudly and aggressively call for an investigation into the IRS, closely monitor Obamacare implementation and oppose the plan on Chained CPI."
Another Democratic campaign committee veteran is wary that Democrats will be able to effectively distance themselves from Obama. After all, there were plenty of Blue Dog Democrats who opposed much of the Obama agenda who lost in 2010 and lots of moderate Republicans who voted against the wishes of the Bush Administration who lost in 2006. Still, said this Democrat, calling for accountability will be key for Democrats hoping to keep their seats in 2014.
Of course, Democrats can also hope that Republicans overplay their hand a la 1998 impeachment. The IRS and DOJ scandals could lend some energy to Tea Party-types looking to win GOP primaries. And, as we saw in 2010, many of those candidates turned out to be gifts to vulnerable Democratic senators (see: Angle, Sharron).
And, while there's good reason to believe that the intense focus on the IRS and DOJ will slow any and all serious legislating, Republicans can't afford to let immigration reform stall. Regardless of what happens in 2014, the 2016 electoral map is not going to get any better for the GOP until and unless they figure out how to start winning over Latino voters. But, while the Republican establishment was able to effectively shut-down the Heritage Foundation's dour review of immigration reform--the fact that immigration enforcement falls to the Department of Justice (and Attorney General Eric Holder) could give new life to opponents of the Gang of Eight legislation.
We are still very early into the 2014 cycle. And, while it's hard for many in DC to see beyond the immediate, there is the very real potential that these issues will not be all that influential a year from now. What does seem more than likely, however, is that any hint of serious legislating--whether on the budget, tax reform and now maybe even immigration--could be stymied. And, for incumbents looking to justify their re-election, another two years of congressional inaction and in-fighting are going to be tough to explain to voters.
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