One thing Washington insiders love more than anything is speculation - whether it's about nominations, policy or elections. As the 2014 mid-term elections creep ever closer, the public eye will shift its vision and scrutinize every move made by each party.
Today, Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report and sponsored by National Journal Live, gave a briefing into the upcoming elections. He was accompanied by two of his colleagues, Jennifer Duffy, who covers the Senate and gubernatorial races, and David Wasserman, who covers the House.
Cook began with two theories or common themes right now: the Republican Brand and Second Term Fatigue. He noted the Republicans are still suffering from a branding problem with discrepancies towards women and minorities. If their problems from 2012 plague them in 2014, Republicans will not have a pleasant primary and election season. Presidents also have always had difficulties in their second terms and Cook noted that Obama is no exception. His favorable rating is between 40 and 41 percent which is roughly similar to George W. Bush's numbers at the same point in his presidency.
A third issue, which seems to be a developing trend in politics today, is Wave Elections. National issues are affecting the way voters cast their ballots in local elections. This was most prevalent in the Virginia gubernatorial race where Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli was negatively associated with the Republican Party of Washington who was blamed with shutting the government down. This may also negatively affect Democrats in that the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act was so horrible, their image may be tarnished. The roll-out has nearly erased all the push back and malevolent feelings Americans held towards Republicans after the government shutdown; it has almost put an equally proportionate taint on each party. The real question is, which party will be damaged the most by each?
While the Tea Partiers put the party and their interests before the rest of the government and shut it down (if you read or listen to conservative media, the Democrats shut the government down over Obamacare), at least Americans know where they stand. I think the president's untruthfulness in the ACA's "if you like your healthcare plan, you can keep your healthcare plan" is much more damaging because now the president and Democrats are going to have trust issues. This is far more difficult to overcome because no one likes being misled although the liberal spin is that insurance companies, not Obamacare is canceling healthcare plans.
So, with the fates of each party reliant on national, not local issues, how will the 2014 races stack up? Ms. Duffy provides some historical context to the races facing the senate - in 2010, Republicans found themselves in a position to pick up a majority of seats. However, they ran candidates such as Christine O'Donnell ("I am not a witch") which hurt their chances. Again, in 2012, they had candidates such as Todd Akin and Richard Murdoch who alienated a large portion of the electorate. The trick in 2014 is how to overcome these types of self-destructing candidates. Duffy noted the hill in 2014 is much steeper putting the chances of Republicans gaining a majority at 25-30 percent. She also pointed towards the Tea Party divide and how the Party nominates non-electable individuals - in this case, candidates in Georgia and Iowa. Cook stated that for Republicans to win a majority, they must knock-off three incumbents. Duffy replied that in the last 10 years, only three Democratic incumbents have lost and Republicans have lost 11 during that same duration.
On the House side, Democrats must make up 17 seats which at first does not seem like much but as Mr. Wasserman noted, is "a lot of ground." He went on to say that the average loss of seats for the sitting president's party in second term mid-term elections is 29 seats. Turnout is also going to be a problem for Democrats. Typically, young voters, who have been a huge electorate for the Democrats, do not turnout for mid-term elections. Wasserman pointed to how Democrats are clustered in urban areas and how winning the House will in fact be a "tall order."
New EPA regulations on coal plants will also be a problem for incumbent Democrats especially in West Virginia (10 of which are up for reelection and nine of them are freshman). On the Republican side, there are a few incumbent Republicans up who are going to face tough primaries. While their seats are safely red, Wasserman stated this will be a good test for the GOP base to see what direction the party really wants to go in the future.
Finally, there is the issue of moderates versus Tea Partiers. Cook inquired as to the role of moderates in the business community and how this may shake things up. Wasserman replied by stating in Michigan's 3rd District, the Grand Rapids' business community is fed up with the current Tea Party Congressman Justin Amash and has sponsored someone named Brian Ellis, an investment manager.
Americans have a short memory. Cook noted this early stating that if the election were this year, the shutdown would be a major topic swaying voters one way or the other. With the mid-terms still 13 months away, he stated another shutdown or default may have to occur again to have the same impact on the electorate. By the time the elections roll around, the shutdown will be ancient history. It seems very likely the 2014 races will produce the same results in terms of majorities despite minor shake-ups in overall numbers. In terms of 2016, Wasserman noted that something extraordinary will have to happen for the Democrats to take back the House and digressed that it is still far away. On the Senate side, Duffy stated 2016 will be driven by 2010 which was a good year for Democrats. It appears nothing is going to change for the future and apparently, the executive will be the ultimate wild card in future elections.