Now less than four months until Election Day 2014, everyone is so sure about what is going to happen in November. Republicans are either going to have a good night (picking up four to six Senate seats), or a great night (picking up more than six, including in blue and purple states). And yet, given this apparent certainty in the Acela Corridor about how the elections are going to play out, here is something to ponder: We still don’t know what the fall campaign is going to be about. Is it health care? (Premium increases could be news in fall; then again, health care hasn’t received much national attention in the last two or three months). Will it be about the economy? (Maybe, maybe not -- see below for more on its limited midterm impact in the past.) What about immigration? (Possibly, but we haven’t seen Democratic or GOP campaigns eager to run on this subject, especially Democrats in the red states) Foreign policy? (Remember Ukraine or Bowe Bergdahl? Or the debacle that is America’s Syria policy?) Will the midterms be about President Obama and Democrats suffering from a thousand different cuts? (Perhaps.) Or will it simply be about the red-leaning map and the fact that key parts of the Democratic base just don’t turn out in midterm elections? (Could be.) Bottom line: Election Day is a little more than 100 days away, and it’s hard to come up with a defining issue, even as so many folks are so sure about the outcome.I tend to agree with their overall point. Given the outcome of a few of the Republican primaries (Cantor and Cochran), the certainty about the outcome of these midterms is pretty overrated.
But other than their inclusion of the fact that the Senate races tend to be in places that are "red-leaning" and that the Democratic base doesn't tend to turn out in midterm elections, take a look at the list of possible policy issues that could come into play.
- Healthcare - we've all noticed by now that Republicans have pretty much gone silent on this one due to Obamacare's overwhelming success lately. Its true that this fall we'll be hearing a lot about what premiums will look like in 2015 on the exchanges. But so far the hysteria that the conservatives are hoping for doesn't seem to be playing out.
- The economy - with unemployment going down, the stock market reaching new highs, and the federal deficit reduced by half, its going to be hard for Republicans to gin up much hysteria about this one. If we continue adding jobs over the next two months at the same pace we have for the last three, its likely that we will go into the fall with an unemployment rate below 6%. There's not much for the Republicans to work with there.
- Immigration - the current humanitarian crisis on our southern border means this one could be volatile for a while. But I suspect that by this fall, the Obama administration will have competently handled that situation and we'll be back to a focus on the need for immigration reform. Once again Republicans will be faced with the fact that opposition riles up their base for the midterms but dooms them with Latino voters in the future.
- Foreign policy - given the fact that none of the current "hot spots" in foreign policy affect American voters directly, I doubt this will be a focal issue. There's also the fact that foreign policy is primarily the responsibility of the president and he's not on the ballot this year. Nevertheless, if Republicans want to talk about this one, they're going to have to get specific and that brings up a couple of problems. They are pretty divided about an alternative and - while Americans don't rate President Obama's handling of foreign policy favorably - they tend to agree with his actions.
But take a look at NBC's next question: "Will the midterms be about President Obama and Democrats suffering from a thousand different cuts? " That is some fascinating spin by this major news network. Notice that they can't contemplate the possibility of Republicans "suffering from a thousand different cuts" - like their opposition to the science of climate change, reproductive freedom, voting rights, immigration reform, common sense gun reform, LGBT equality, unions, raising the minimum wage, paycheck fairness, and student loan relief. Heaven help us if we mention that those things might hurt Republicans with voters.
But overall NBC is right in that all Republicans have these days is the hysteria of opposition. As they focus on suing President Obama for doing his job, the Democratic response has basically been "bring it on!" Talking about who is doing their job these days and who isn't might not be a bad conversation to have.
The truth is that in many ways the deck is stacked against the Democrats in this midterm election (Senate races in red states and gerrymandering of House races). But right now it looks like the Republican base has trapped the party into doing all they can to even the playing field. Our task is to simply get the voters who actually care about issues out to the polls.