A year after the GOP-induced government shutdown and the disastrous rollout of HealthCare.gov, Republicans and ObamaCare have made comebacks. But Democrats are still waiting for theirs.
Wednesday was the anniversary of both momentous political events of 2013. Back then, Democrats were giddy over the potential political payoff after GOP obstructionism in Congress shuttered the government for 16 days.
“It wouldn’t be the worst thing for Democrats if [Republicans] tried to shut the government down,” former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Attorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty Attorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation MORE said in late September 2013.
Poll numbers plunged for Republicans last October, when the GOP did just that. According to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll conducted a week into the shutdown, voters blamed the Republicans for the shutdown more than President Obama by a 22-point margin. The president’s approval rating improved to 47 percent, while the public preferred a Democratic-controlled Congress by 8 points.
“If it were not so bad for the country, the results could almost make a Democrat smile,” Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted the NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, wrote on Oct. 10, 2013.
Democrats privately said at the time that they could take the House back. They’re not saying that any more.
The Democrats’ euphoria didn’t last long. Lost in the GOP’s futile push to stop ObamaCare’s implementation was the news that the administration’s flagship website for health insurance enrollments was a catastrophe. Immediately after the government reopened, the headlines zeroed in on problems with the enrollment website and people who would lose their plans under the new law.
That brief honeymoon was never recaptured for Democrats, either. While Republicans don’t remain popular either, it’s the Democrats — desperately looking to hang onto the Senate and tread water in the House — who are grappling with an unpopular president.
A year later, President Obama’s approval rating is low: 37 percent in a recent Reuters/Ipsos survey. The public perception of the healthcare law has improved some, but it still remains unpopular, with 34 percent approving and 48 percent disapproving, according to last month’s NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.
Democrats have tried to keep reminding voters of those shutdown days. On Wednesday, they launched a Twitter campaign with a “ShutdownForWhat” hashtag. But the campaign hasn’t resonated with voters, many of whom have short memories.
A few weeks ago, when another fiscal stalemate loomed on Capitol Hill, emails warning of another shutdown were a fundraising gold mine for Democrats.
Republicans backed down, and the possibility of a shutdown quick faded. That hasn’t stopped the Democratic talking points.
“There is one thing voters remember above all else about this Republican Congress: one year ago tonight, House Republicans shut down the government for the first time in 17 years, costing our economy $24 billion and sticking middle class families with the tab,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) said in a statement Tuesday.
“Americans have not forgotten the damage House Republicans inflicted on this country with their manufactured crisis, and they will not forget when they head to voting booths in November.”
But that’s not what is atop voters’ concerns.
According to the latest CBS News/New York Times survey, the economy unsurprisingly remains at the front of voters’ minds. Thirty-eight percent said it is the most important factor in determining their vote this fall, followed by terrorism at 17 percent. The terror number is on the rise, as concerns of a threat from Islamic militants grow. Healthcare isn’t far behind, at 16 percent, though that number still benefits the GOP.
Republicans continue to poll well on terrorism and national security, and with economic blame still resting with the president, according to most voters, there’s little good news there for Democrats.
ObamaCare isn’t as toxic as it once was for Democrats — with recipients able to tout tangible benefits and help they’ve received — but it’s also not the boon they hoped it might become.
There is some good news for Democrats. Many of the vulnerable Senate Democratic incumbents in red states, such as Sen. Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorBottom line Everybody wants Joe Manchin Cotton glides to reelection in Arkansas MORE (Ark.), remain competitive. Four years ago, then-Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) was down 20 points before getting soundly defeated in November.
If this were October 2013, we’d be talking about very different elections. The odds now favor Republicans taking back the Senate and increasing their House majority. Indeed, a year is a lifetime in politics.