Thursday, May 1, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Quick Takes 2014 - No. 2

We are now in the not-quite-clear period of the 2014 national
mid-term elections when competitive U.S. house and senate
races are not fully inhabited with their full cast of characters.
What is partially clear is that there is so far a “trend” putting
many incumbent Democrats, especially senators, on the
defensive and quite vulnerable. With no presidential election,
continued domestic economic problems, and above all, the
exceedingly weak launch of Obamacare, this “trend” has
grown in recent months, creating the possibility that
Republicans might not only win back control of the senate,
but might as well increase the size of their control of the U.S.
house. We have been in a similar place before, in 2010 and
2012, but only in 2010 did the “trend” continue and grow
through election day. In 2012, the Democratic president was
re-elected with a superior get-out-the-vote effort and, in some
notable cases, better candidates --- and the trend was blunted.

Just as the Democrats were out-campaigned in 2004, and
organized superior campaigns in 2008 and 2012, the GOP has
been attempting to catch up in voter ID technology and other
innovations in campaign strategy. We won’t know if they have
succeeded until election day, but there is little doubt they are
trying. The Democrats have to defend not only Obamacare,
the obvious “politics” of delaying the Keystone oil pipeline,
an unpopular incumbent president near his lowest level in
the polls, and the seeming decline of U.S. standing in the world,
they have to do it with no clear and underlying principle of
government other than the controversial notions of
“redistribution” of wealth and resources.These latter include
emotional issues such as raising the minimum wage which,
as did social security in previous cycles, puts Republicans on
the defensive.  Other emotional issues such as immigration
reform have historically also put Republicans on defense, and
cost them votes. The GOP leadership, facing dissident wings in
their own party, is having a time of it trying to navigate through
some very troubled political waters. These and various other
countervailing forces complicate the emerging political “trends”
of the 2014 elections. This uncertainty will likely continue until
the summer when the competitive races are more defined and
the state of the economy is clearer.

What must be most disturbing to Democratic strategists, however,
is the procession of incumbent vulnerabilty from one level, or tier,
to races thought to be “safe.” A recent attempt by some Democrats
to suggest this was not happening through bogus polls fell flat
when more credible polls rebuked this. A “bunker mentality” of
defending Obamacare and other administration policies has
arisen, but as I have suggested for many months, at some point,
the instinct for self-preservation by many vulnerable Democrats
will predominate over blind party loyalties.

Those who follow each competitive race, and write about them,
have seen little movement in recent days, although the overall
“trend” continues for now. In a few competitive states, such as
Minnesota, Democrats are doing well in statewide races, although
even there they could lose a U.S. house seat and control of the
state house of representatives, but these details will have to wait
for warmer weather.  In this environment, individual races,
flawed candidates in both parties, blunders by campaigns
and individuals, and factionalism will dominate the political
news. Yet make no mistake, an enormous quantity of political
work is already taking place behind the electoral chatter.

The media, but not the electorate, will also fill the time with
endless speculation about 2016 presidential candidates, and at
least one side will try to create the impression that their
nomination contest is over. It need not be said enough, however
in regard to 2016, and even about 2014, there is more than enough
time for new turns, flips, and somersaults in the acrobatic
spectacle of it all.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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