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A.B. Stoddard: Dems on thin ice for 2014

Greg Nash

Amid a torrent of fresh and frightening polling, Democrats are clinging to some comforting silver linings: flush war chests, a few strong individual polls, a robust gender gap. But it will be months before we know if they are kittens balancing on branches or cats with nine lives.

In recent weeks, as Republicans have increased their list of targets to win back the six seats they need to control the U.S. Senate, Democrats have cheered the fact that two polls show Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas well ahead of their competitors in the midterm races. Republicans questioned the credibility of the polls, but the Democrats were just thrilled not to be trailing their likely opponents.

Landrieu has outraised Rep. Bill Cassidy, who is likely to win the GOP nomination. North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan, one of the most vulnerable Democrats this cycle, raised nearly twice the amount her likely opponent, state House Speaker Thom Tillis, did this quarter. And in a marquee race this year, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is running against Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, has managed to raise more than he has in the first quarter as well. In polling, women favor Democrats over Republicans 51 percent-38 percent, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. 

But that’s where the good news ends.

By an even larger margin, 53 percent-38 percent, the same poll shows the voters most interested in this coming election favor Republicans. And with President Obama’s approval numbers in the danger zone, under 50 percent (up slightly in the one poll and down in the other), 53 percent of respondents in the Washington Post/ABC News poll said they favored having Republicans control Congress as a check on the president’s policies.

The consensus, among pollsters and prognosticators, is that turnout favors Republicans. Midterm elections attract an older, whiter and more male electorate than presidential elections do, and the participation of the coalition on which Democrats depend tends to drop off dramatically. In 2010, the Democrats had a 5-point lead in the general ballot just before the party lost control of the House majority. Now they are tied in one survey and ahead by just 1 point in another.

The popularity of ObamaCare has seen a slight uptick in the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll but remains unpopular enough among Republican and independent voters that Democrats, for the most part, have refused to run on it, even as all of their GOP opponents run against it. The issue continues to galvanize Republicans while Democrats hold their collective breath, in fear of a spike in premiums set by insurance companies in the late summer could create a wave that costs them 10 seats or more in the Senate.

All politics is local, Democrats can hope. No, Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) is not President Obama, nor is Hagan, nor is Pryor. But Obama’s approval ratings are so low in red states that Dems can only hang their hope on finding something so negative about their eventual general election opponents they can get their supporters in the car to vote against them. Can that margin hold a candle to the percentage of people counting the days to vote Democrats out of office six months from now?

Creating motivation for disappointed Democrats who may have once supported the Affordable Care Act but worry about it now, who fear that vibrant economic growth might not return in their time left in the workforce and who doubt Obama’s ability as commander in chief could be a lot harder than Democratic candidates expect. And pushing a minimum-wage increase, voting rights, pay equity and immigration reform may not cut it.


Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.