The enrollment numbers for the Affordable Care Act skyrocket while unemployment plummets? A rash of ethics and sex scandals breaks out in the Republican conferences of both the House and Senate? President Obama brokers Middle East peace and disarms Iran? It’s hard to imagine a scenario, or “opportunity,” as it is called in politics, that could help Democrats alter their fortunes in the midterm elections this fall.
Democrats knew all along they couldn’t win the House by flipping 17 seats this fall; after redistricting there simply aren’t enough competitive seats, though the party’s leadership has asked members not to acknowledge this publicly. Winning six seats to flip control of the Senate, however, is now within reach for Republicans.
While voters still trust Democrats more on key policy issues like healthcare, believe the Democratic Party is better for the middle class and agree more with Democratic policy positions overall, strong majorities think the country is on the wrong track and disapprove of Obama’s stewardship of the economy. Independent voters are leaning toward Republicans, and the Affordable Care Act is not popular. History nearly always gives the advantage to the party out of power in the sixth year of a president’s second term, and currently the GOP holds an advantage in the generic ballot heading into the midterm elections.
All of Obama’s exhortations at party fundraisers these days — that somehow Democrats don’t find midterms “sexy” and get “a little sleepy” about funding and mobilizing campaigns and voters in off-year congressional elections — aren’t likely to change the fact that midterm electorates are traditionally older, whiter and more male than the turnout for presidential elections. The Obama coalition of young, new, female and African-American voters isn’t likely to work or vote in anywhere near the numbers it did for both of his presidential elections.
Witness what that group did just two years into his presidency: It stayed home in the 2010 election while the GOP picked up historic majorities not only in the U.S. House of Representatives but in statehouses and governorships across the country. And in that election, Democrats had even held a slim edge over Republicans.
Pro-Republican super-PACs are pounding vulnerable Democrats, aware that this is a critical moment that cannot be squandered. Republican donors not only fear that Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonHow dealmaker Trump can resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Chelsea Clinton mocks Trump over Sweden incident comments Conway criticized by president of alma mater MORE could become president in 2017, they know Democrats are well positioned to cement or take back their Senate majority two years from now. Not one of 10 Democratic senators up for reelection in 2016 is from a red state, but seven of the 24 Republicans up then are from states Obama won: Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois.
In the face of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of attack ads aimed mostly at Democrats for supporting ObamaCare, Democrats are clinging to the issue of a minimum wage increase as a shield. Turning it into a ballot initiative in critical states could boost turnout among voters who otherwise might not vote in a midterm election. Poll show a majority of voters support raising the minimum wage, including white men who traditionally vote Republican.
In the eight months until Election Day, Democrats will be hoping for surprises, and Republicans will be hoping for none.
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.