Top Democrat predicts Syria crisis off the political radar by 2014

The chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee predicted Tuesday that Syria won’t be a factor in the 2014 elections — even as Republican see ballot-box fallout for Democrats from President Obama’s perceived weakness during the crisis. 

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"It does not complicate the cycle at all. 2014 is not going to be a referendum on Syria," Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in Washington.

Israel cited polling conducted for the DCCC of voters in nearly 70 swing districts nationwide that indicated people in those pivotal districts are looking for candidates who are “solutionists.” He said the Republican brand is “toxic” to voters. 

"2014 will be a referendum on solutions … 2014 will be a referendum on whose ideas are helping the middle class versus Republican ideas that are undermining the middle class," Israel said. "Syria is not going to be part of, will not be the subject of a referendum in 2014."

Israel's comments come as Congress debates how to deal with the crisis in Syria — whether to approve the use of military force, or to rally behind a new effort to have Syrian President Bashar Assad relinquish his chemical weapons arsenal. 

A vote on military authorization would be particularly difficult for House Democrats, who would be torn between war-weary constituencies opposed to strikes and the desire to support Obama. 

A new poll Tuesday from CNN reveals more than 70 percent of Americans don't believe a strike would achieve significant goals.

Republicans, too, are widely opposed to the measure. Israel said Republicans are largely opposed to Syrian engagement because President Obama is a Democrat.

“Does anyone truly believe that if Mitt Romney had been elected president and had asked House Republicans for exactly what President Obama is asking, that House Republicans would oppose it to the extent that they’re opposed to what President Obama wants?” he said.

“The level of hypocrisy is what amazes me.”

Israel said a proposal, first suggested by Secretary of State John Kerry and initially embraced by Russia, for Assad to turn over his weapons could make a vote on military strikes moot. 

“It’s just so fluid right now. If the Russia deal is a real deal, I think this evaporates quickly. And I can’t imagine voters waking up in a year and 2 months saying, 'I’m going to cast my vote on Syria,'” he said.

But Republicans privately believe the political damage done by Obama’s pursuit of congressional approval for military strikes may cause collateral damage in House races nationwide — particularly if disillusioned Democratic voters stay home from the polls.

One Republican involved in House races said that, regardless of whether there is a vote, Obama’s initial proposal to strike Syria is likely to hamper 2014 turnout within the Democratic Party’s anti-war base.

“Democrats have made a big deal about how their 2014 strategy is very much tied to the president — his ability to fundraise, to campaign, to turn out the voters that voted for him in 2012 — so his standing, particularly with their base, is very much important to their strategy,” the strategist said.

“I don’t think last week we understood how bad this was going to be for the president. I think it's clearly impacted his ability to be seen as credible to the American people. The situation has gotten considerably worse for him,” the strategist added.

By The Hill's current count, nearly half of House Democrats remain undecided on Syria, and more Democrats have expressed opposition than support for the strikes. 

Of the 26 members on the DCCC's Frontline Program, a designation for its most vulnerable incumbents, 24 have weighed in publicly as undecided. Two of the Democrats are opposed to strikes.

If the U.S. ultimately strikes Syria, Israel said the military action could be so swift that any fallout would disappear by 2014. 

If it's "swift, in and out, focused on degrading and deteriorating their chemical weapons capability,” Israel said. “I just don’t think people in 2014 are going to be thinking about the debate on a limited military strike in 2013.”

Syria aside, Democrats face a difficult House battleground this cycle. 

Israel said that while it’s “too soon to say” whether Democrats have a shot at taking back the House next year, the party is hoping to play offense in 52 districts, most of which saw Republicans win by single-digit margins in 2012.

Democrats have about 25 districts to defend, but Israel said he’s “not losing sleep over our defense at all.”

The Republican strategy in many of those districts has been to make the election a referendum on ObamaCare, which remains largely unpopular with the American public. 

Conservative lawmakers in both chambers are pushing a proposal to defund the law, and the House has voted more than 30 times to repeal it.

But Israel said that swing-district polling showed the Republican efforts to repeal the law are unpopular.

While he’s been advising lawmakers to avoid “re-litigat[ing] the ideological war” on the law, he said that solving the law’s problems is a winning argument with voters.

“You go back home and you set up an (Affordable Care Act) implementation task force, and you put people in a room and you say OK I want to solve these difficulties one by one, and I want to be a problem solver, not an ideological warrior, you win,” he said.

This story was originally published at 9:25 a.m. and has been updated.