By now, I think it’s clear to everyone who follows politics that President Obama’s domestic policies are fixed around one objective. That objective is gaining control of the House of Representatives in the 2014 election so that his final two years at the White House will bring a bang, not a whimper.
Flush with his success in November, Obama initially believed he could achieve this goal via the same means through which he secured that success — by demonizing Republicans as tools of the wealthy. Hence his approach, with road show included, to the fiscal cliff and sequestration.
But this approach manifestly hasn’t worked. Obama’s approval number has tumbled. Even in New York State, it dropped by 10 points (from 66 percent to 56 percent) in the past month. And 60 percent of New York voters now believe the country is on the wrong track.
But it’s not just voters who are disillusioned with Obama’s performance. According to Politico, “Democratic candidates and operatives in the districts on which control of the House will hinge [say] that the message and issues Obama has emphasized since the election are creating a difficult political headwind for them.”
For example, Jim Graves, the Democratic candidate who gave Michele Bachmann a very tough race in 2012 and plans to have another go in 2014, complained that “the tone coming out of the White House. . .could probably be more conciliatory.” Graves added: “There’s no question — Obama has taken a fairly liberal tack in his second term. But I’m not here for the president. I’m here for the people of the 6th Congressional District.”
The political math confirms the concern of Graves and similarly situated Democrats. As Politico points out, to net 17 seats and flip the chamber, Democrats have to win predominantly on GOP turf, in districts that Mitt Romney won and where Obama and his agenda are unpopular. If class warfare were effective in these districts, Obama would have carried them. So too, more likely than not, would the Democratic candidate for the House.
This reality, by the way, should ease (though certainly not eliminate) the concern expressed by Newt Gingrich and others that the Democrats may be able to approach their vastly impressive 2012 turnout numbers in 2014. Even the 2012 turnout numbers weren’t good enough in the districts the Dems need to gain control of the House.
The headwind Obama creates for Democrats in swing congressional districts isn’t just the product of his non-conciliatory stance on the fiscal cliff and sequestration. Politico cites the issues of gun control, immigration, and gay marriage. Significant gun control legislation isn’t going to happen in the Congress, so the Dems can probably dodge that bullet, so to speak. The gay marriage issue will be fought primarily in the courts during the next year-and-a-half. Thus, Obama’s stance on this issues most likely will not be significant in local congressional elections.
But Congress will be front-and-center on the immigration front. If, as seems like to happen, Republican Senators join with Democrats to support amnesty for illegal immigrants, they will provide some cover to Democratic congressional candidates who support amnesty. If House Republicans fail to block what the Senate hatches, Democratic candidates will have received a “get out of jail card” on the issue. This is another reason why House Republicans should hold the line against comprehensive immigration reform.
These days, Republicans are preoccupied with trying to squeeze out a few extra percentage points from the Hispanic vote, which still constitutes a relatively small minority within the electorate. For purposes of the election of 2014, which will determine Obama’s level of success in his quest to become “transformative,” Republicans should focus more on how to hold, and expand upon, their margin among the cohort of voters — a majority of the electorate — that opposes amnesty and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.