Can the spirit of 2012 save the Democrats in 2014?

Democrats are quite nervous about this year’s mid-term election, and understandably so. But they have a strategy for survival — replicate the turnout that propelled President Obama to victory two years ago.

According to the Washington Post:

Democrats are banking on the belief that they can better identify potential supporters, motivate them and get them to the polls — in essence, reshape the midterm electorate to make it look more like the electorate in a presidential year. To try to do so, they will for the first time fully employ the sophisticated tools and techniques used in Obama’s presidential campaigns to aid Senate and some House candidates.

Given the apathy that Obama admits plagues his supporters when he’s not on the ballot, the Democrats need more than just a strong ground game. They need a forceful message, and preferably a frightening one.

The President is on the case:

Obama hopes to stir his base to action and in the past two weeks has been trying to push all the buttons. He invoked the slaying of civil rights workers in the 1960s to implore a largely African American audience in New York to take advantage of their right to vote.

At the White House a few days before that, he pushed the issue of pay equity for women. Around the country, he and other Democrats have seized on raising the minimum wage to draw a contrast with Republicans. He chastised House Republicans in a statement this past week for not moving on immigration reform.

Is this a winning strategy for Democrats?

The answer, I think, is no. Not because I assume the Democrats can’t turn out their base. Republicans underestimate Obama’s ability to get out the vote at their peril.

The problem for the Democrats is that even if they replicate 2012 turnout levels, they probably are in for a rough year.

Let’s start with the House. Republicans kept control of it in 2012. Thus, unless public opinion has moved in favor of the Democrats since then, Republicans presumably can keep control again, even in the face of 2012 turnout numbers.

As for the Senate, Republicans can capture control of it by defeating incumbent Democrats in states that Mitt Romney carried — West Virginia, Montana, South Dakota, Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana, and North Carolina — and by holding seats in Georgia and Kentucky, states that Romney also carried. Indeed, in this scenario, they would have a seat to spare.

To be sure, in most, if not all, of these states Democrats are running Senate candidates who are more attractive than Obama to local voters. But they are more attractive mainly because they are more moderate. The rhetoric that will fire up African-Americans, Hispanics, and feminists may undercut attempts by Democratic senatorial candidates in these states to maintain that moderate image.

Consider North Carolina, which Obama lost in 2012 by 92,000 votes despite a massive Democratic effort that included holding the party’s national convention in Charlotte. Even in the highly unlikely event that the Democrats replicate the African-American share of the electorate achieved in 2012 — 23 percent — Sen. Kay Hagan must still find a way to improve upon Obama’s performance among white voters — 32 percent.

Talking about immigration reform and dead civil right leaders from the 1960s doesn’t seem like a path to success in this endeavor. Distancing herself from Obama is more promising. But the more Hagan distances herself from Obama and his message, the harder it will be to even approach the level of minority turnout he achieved.

Some of the races the Democrats need to win to hold the Senate, including North Carolina, are probably winnable for them. And borrowing Team Obama’s state-of-the-art GOTV methods undoubtedly is a good idea. But the key to victory for Democrats in these states lies in more traditional techniques — posing as a centrist and demonizing the Republican.