Sunday, July 7, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Can We See 2014 Yet?

The 2014 midterm U.S. elections are more than a year
away, but the strategies for them are already being
formulated by the two major parties.

The major prize in this election is likely to be control
of the U.S. senate. This prize eluded the minority
Republican Party in 2012, as the superior Democratic
get-out-the vote effort combined with several flawed
GOP senate nominees actually gave the liberal party
a net gain in the senate in spite of many more
Democrats running for re-election than Republicans.

This circumstance is repeated in 2014, and the question
is: Will the conservative party fare better this cycle?

So far, the number and location of retiring incumbents
favors the GOP, in addition to the fact that only 14
GOP seats are up for election, compared to 20 for the
Democrats. Only one or two GOP senate seats are
currently considered even vulnerable while 8-10
incumbent Democratic seats are rated from very to
moderately vulnerable.

Nevertheless, the full number of retirees may not yet be
known, neither are the identities of many challengers to
Holding the majority in the senate, and facing chronic
unemployment, the Democrats are so far on the
defensive. There has been some marginal improvement
in the economy in recent months, and the stock market
is up, but uncertainly has arisen about the continued
artificial support of the economy by the Federal Reserve.
Furthermore, the catalyst of the stunning defeat of the
Democrats in U.S. house races in 2010, the massive
Obamacare legislation, hangs around the necks of many
liberal house and senate candidates as implementation of
the medical reform legislation looms imminent. The recent
delay by the Obama administration of the business portion
of this reform was an explicit admission of the problems
these new laws face. The delay might avoid some negative
reactions, but the unpopularity of Obamacare among voters
suggests that part of the Republican strategy in 2014 will be
to warn voters that re-electing and electing Democrats will
only insure that Obamacare and its problems will then come
full-force in 2015.

Some provisions of Obamacare, while they might be
economically unfeasible, are popular with voters, including
the requirement to insure persons with major medical
issues, and the mandatory transfer of high risk insurability.
Not only that, the obvious problems currently in the
healthcare industry clearly have demonstrated the urgent
need for some kind of healthcare reform, so conservatives
will likely have to advance some plan for alternative reform,
presumably a free market approach, in order to take full
advantage of the Democratic legislation’s disarray.

In 2012, the economic downturn and high unemployment
were not as politically critical as some observers thought
they might be for several reasons. One was that the
numbers seemed to have bottomed out. By removing
non-job seeking workers from the unemployed statistics,
the official unemployment number was lowered to under
8%, even though the real number was more than 10%.
Republican strategists were notably inept in pointing this
out. The stock market and real estate market declines had
seemed to begin to reverse themselves, and this continues
a year later, although the fundamental lackluster economic
performance persists.  With the old established media
cheerleading for the Obama administration during the
2012 campaign, and continuing to do so, GOP critics and
strategists have an additional burden to overcome in
persuading voters that the liberal economic program is
not only not working, but preventing the economy from a
natural and overdue recovery.

Another reason Democrats were successful in 2012 was
a much superior voter identification and get-out-the-vote
effort around Mr. Obama’s re-election. The mechanics
of that effort remain in place, but there is no presidential
election in 2014 with which to energize the campaign.
Nevertheless, Republicans in the individual 2014 house and
senate campaigns will have to demonstrate that they
learned something from their opponents’ success in 2012,
and can revamp their strategies accordingly. If they do not,
several marginal races, particularly in U.S. senate contests,
will be won by Democrats, possibly denying GOP control.

It is anticipated by most observers that control of the U.S.
house will not switch back to the Democrats in the 2014
cycle. Overconfidence by conservatives, however, might not
be altogether in order. Both houses of Congress do not enjoy
much popular support these days. A sustained economic
recovery, however unlikely, could begin to develop by next
year, and this would seriously undercut the GOP argument in
the 2014 cycle.

Electoral politics at the national level is a serious business.
Quality of candidates and campaigns do make a difference,
no matter what the “trend” or “mood” of an election is.
Although Democrats are seriously on the defensive on
economic issues and Obamacare, that does not necessarily
mean they will do poorly in the 2014 elections.

It would appear that international issues and U.S. foreign
policy, although filling daily headlines with dramatic crises,
will not be dispositive issues in 2014. Perhaps some
Republicans would like to make them into issues by calling
attention to Obama administration foreign policy failures,
but with U.S. retreat from the international arena, and
reducing our military presence in the world, voters will likely
be much more concerned with “pocketbook”concerns in 2014.

Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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