It’s now the conventional wisdom that Republicans will keep control of the House of Representatives and win the Senate in this year’s elections, but as Dick Motta once said, it ain’t over until the fat lady sings.
Midterm elections are tricky, especially in a president’s second term. Republicans got swept in 2006, and they’d felt they were likely to keep the House as late as September of that year. In 1998, most pundits thought that Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonPerdue proposes election police force in Georgia To boost economy and midterm outlook, Democrats must pass clean energy bill Could the coming 'red wave' election become a 'red tsunami'? MORE’s Oval Office escapades would be enough to insure a victory for the GOP, but they actually lost seats, forcing Newt Gingrich’s resignation as Speaker.
The key to winning a midterm election is making sure that your base is energized and that your opponent’s base isn’t. Here are six steps that Republicans should take to keep the focus on President Obama — and off them.
1. Nominate good candidates
The primary season is starting to heat up, and its battles will decide the future of the party. Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho is a solid conservative and a team player, and if he wins, it will auger well for a party in need of common-sense leadership. If, instead, the party nominates candidates like Milton Wolf in Kansas, Chris McDaniel in Mississippi and Matt Bevin in Kentucky, it will be a bad November.
2. Oversight, oversight, oversight
The scandal that has hit the Veterans Affairs Department is the result of congressional oversight. The troubles with ObamaCare can be better explained through congressional oversight. The truth about what happened in Benghazi can only be discovered through congressional oversight.
3. Pass the Voting Rights Act reauthorization
Democrats plan on making voting suppression a key plank in their get-out-the-vote strategy. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) has introduced bipartisan legislation to modernize the Voting Rights Act in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to throw out the formula that decides which states must get extra scrutiny under its provisions. Republicans can take away a key argument from the Democrats by passing this bill.
4. Finish the spending bills
The House Appropriations Committee got its earliest start ever this year on its annual spending bill process. Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) understands the importance of regular order and he wants to get his work done quickly. Two things can hurt the Republicans this fall: a government shutdown and a bloated omnibus bill. By having each subcommittee finish its work, the House can put maximum pressure on the Senate to do the same.
5. Immigration reform, piece by piece
Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDemocrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit Stopping the next insurrection Biden, lawmakers mourn Harry Reid MORE (R-Ohio) has laid out a plan to fix our broken immigration system. Republicans should embrace it. The BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDemocrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit Stopping the next insurrection Biden, lawmakers mourn Harry Reid MORE plan doesn’t include amnesty but does include a smarter way to secure the border without a ridiculous surge in spending. It won’t be a big, comprehensive bill, but a series of smaller, more understandable pieces of legislation that if brought to the House floor will be hard to vote against. Immigration reform, if done right, will make America safer and grow our economy. And from a Republican perspective, it will help start a conversation with a growing Hispanic voting bloc that will become more critical to a governing coalition in the long term. In the short term, passing reform will make it harder for Democrats to energize Hispanics to vote against Republicans.
6. Keep focus on ObamaCare, not a Republican alternative
ObamaCare needs to be fixed. But Republicans don’t need to be scheduling votes fixing it this year. Any GOP alternative won’t get through the Senate and will put a big target on the party’s back in the fall elections. The GOP should keep the heat on the president’s key legislative achievement without exposing itself to unnecessary political risk.
Feehery is president of QGA Public Affairs and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former Speaker of the House Denny Hastert (R-Ill.), as communications director to Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) when he was majority whip and as speechwriter to former Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).