By Bernie Becker - 10/31/14 06:09 AM EDT
As if Democrats don’t face enough hurdles this midterm year, they’re also staring down a party base asking President Obama: “What have you done for me lately?”
In fact, virtually every traditional pillar of Democratic support, from Hispanics and African-Americans to young voters and progressives, has some level of dissatisfaction with the White House and party leaders.
For Democrats seeking to keep control of the Senate, that frustration from the base is only the latest ominous sign, on top of the traditional turnout problems the party faces every off-year election.
Young voters and African-Americans — the original pillars of the “Obama coalition” during his primary fight with Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonThe Democrats just endorsed a military junta in their party platform Wasserman Schultz won’t get party money for primary fight Clinton, Sanders supporters battle at Dem convention start MORE in 2008 — continue to have a tougher time finding a job than the population at large, even as the economy continues to pick up.
And liberals who opposed the wars of the George W. Bush era have to cope both with a fresh escalation in the Middle East, and a president whose record on civil liberties has been a letdown.
Cristina Jimenez of United We Dream, a group advocating for immigration reform, accused Obama on Wednesday of “choosing politics over our families, when he decided to delay his action on immigration because of the midterm elections.”
Obama had promised activists that he’d enact immigration changes on his own before November’s elections, before pushing that timeline back to the end of the year.
“Our community will not accept political excuses,” Jimenez added on a conference call, just days after Hispanic advocates interrupted Hillary Clinton at a campaign stop for Sen. Kay HaganKay HaganDemocratic National Convention event calendar 10 Senate seats most likely to flip in 2016 Senate Republicans are feeling the 'Trump effect' MORE (D-N.C.), whose fate is crucial for Democratic hopes to keep the Senate.
Activists used the same tactic on Thursday, when the former secretary of State spoke at a rally in support of Anthony Brown, the Democratic nominee for governor in Maryland.
The problems the party’s base has faced during Obama’s second term has made the task of ginning up turnout all the more difficult.
But on the flip side of the argument, some Democratic strategists and Obama aides have long been frustrated with a left that they believe is rarely satisfied and prone to tantrum-throwing.
In the run-up to the 2010 midterms, Obama’s then-press secretary Robert Gibbs derided “the professional left,” telling The Hill in an interview that those progressives “will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare, and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality.”
The Obama loyalists argue, in part, that progressives don’t fully appreciate the president’s achievements.
But the Obama camp also believes that liberal activists don’t totally grasp the president’s role in standing up to congressional Republicans or how little chance their priorities have of getting enacted if the GOP gains full control of Congress.
Even so, Doug Thornell, a Democratic strategist, insisted that the party has hit the right notes in trying to energize the base this year.
For much of 2014, Democrats have leaned on a populist message, pointing to their efforts to keep college affordable, increase the minimum wage and protect Social Security, as they argue that GOP policies will hurt the working and middle class.
Thornell, a top aide at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during the 2010 midterms, maintained that world events, such as the resurgence of Islamic militants in the Middle East and the Ebola outbreak, had simply made it harder for that populist, domestic-focused message to break through.
“I think Democratic candidates are competing about as well as you can expect given what they’re working with,” Thornell said, arguing that Republicans should have put more Senate seats in red states out of reach already.
Instead, Democrats or independents remain competitive in Georgia, Kansas and even Kentucky, home of Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellProgressive group changes tone on Kaine Trump hits Kaine on TPP: He supports a 'job killer' Clinton maps out first 100 days MORE.
Obama has sat down repeatedly with black radio hosts, once even angering some Democrats by pointing out that the party’s incumbents had generally backed his policies.
Justin Barasky, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said parallel efforts are being made with the Hispanic population.
“Everything we’re seeing shows Latinos are very enthusiastic about voting this election, and we have large leads with them,” Barasky said. “The Latino vote will be very important, and we are aggressively working to get out the vote.”
But according to a new Pew poll, Hispanics were no more energized to vote this year than they were in 2010. And while they were roughly twice as likely to support a Democrat than a Republican, that also marks a slight decrease from four years ago.
Young voters remain more likely to support a Democratic Congress, according to a new poll from Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, if only by a 50 percent to 43 percent margin. But in another potentially bad omen for Democrats, the young voters who are definitely voting narrowly favored full Republican control of Congress in the same survey.
There are even signs that the Democrats’ advantage with women voters might be fading, after Republicans made a concerted effort not to repeat the mistakes committed by previous GOP Senate candidates, including Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana on health issues.
For instance, polls suggest that Sen. Mark UdallMark UdallColorado GOP Senate race to unseat Dem incumbent is wide open Energy issues roil race for Senate Unable to ban Internet gambling, lawmakers try for moratorium MORE (D-Colo.) has a smaller lead with women voters than Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) did in 2010, despite Udall’s repeatedly accusing his Republican opponent Cory GardnerCory GardnerBehind the scenes on Day 2 of the Republican convention Lobbyists bolting Trump convention early The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE of waging a “war on women.”
Some liberals say that Democrats' problems show they didn’t lean hard enough on their populist message this year. Adam Green, a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said that national Democrats would have a more energetic base if they had better followed the lead of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
“Warren's economic populist agenda offers a pathway to success for Democrats in 2014 and 2016 — if they choose to take it,” Green said.