Dems increasingly see ‘electoral dynamite’ in net neutrality fight
Democrats are increasingly looking to make their support for net neutrality regulations a campaign issue in the midterm elections.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate is expected to vote on a measure to restore the Obama-era rules repealed by the GOP-controlled Federal Communications Commission this week.
It’s not clear that Democrats will be able to win the 51st supporter they need to ensure passage, but even if they fail they think the public fight will crystalize their image as the party battling to support an open internet.
And they see it as creating a public record of Republicans voting against net neutrality, which they plan to use in future campaigns.
“This bill does one simple thing: It gets every member of the Senate on the record for or against net neutrality,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said Wednesday. “Republicans are going to regret it from a public policy standpoint and a political standpoint.”
“I have literally never seen an issue that polls so decisively on one side,” Schatz told The Hill in a separate interview on Friday. He encouraged Democrats running to closely consider making it a big issue in their own campaigns.
“Everyone has to run their own race and make their own decisions,” he said. “I will say this though: I have seen nothing so far to indicate that this is not electoral dynamite. I think every Democratic candidate ought to look very hard as to what this will do in terms of enthusiasm among millennials and the extent to which it can mobilize infrequent voters.”
Public opinion polls about net neutrality vary but consistently show support for the policies, which aim to create a level playing field on the internet by preventing broadband companies such as AT&T and Comcast from slowing down or blocking certain types of content. Many polls show overwhelming support for the rules.
Democratic campaign committees say they plan to use the issue to rally support for their candidates in this fall’s midterms and potentially future elections as well.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Tyler Law told The Hill that the organization sees the “potential” in net neutrality “to motivate young and progressive voters to turn out.”
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) spokesman David Bergstein expressed a similar sentiment to The Hill.
“This is the kind of issue that directly impacts voters lives and is something that voters are dealing with in a very tangible way,” he said. “That will be unpopular with voters in every state, of every political persuasion.”
A Democratic campaign aide said that committees will likely make net neutrality more of a campaign issue than in past races, partially because of the “heightened focus on internet privacy this election cycle.”
In the wake of data scandals like Facebook’s with Cambridge Analytica, voters are more concerned with internet data security. The aide said this is driving attention to net neutrality, even though it’s a different issue.
The DSCC plans to run new advertising on net neutrality in the coming weeks.
Republicans dismiss the Democratic efforts as “political theater.”
Instead of playing games, they say Democrats should work with them on a bipartisan compromise.
“Unfortunately, manufactured controversy often gets more attention in Washington than real solutions,” Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) wrote in a CNBC op-ed on Wednesday.
Thune has long called for Democrats to come to the negotiating table on the issue. Democrats say they haven’t seen an option presented by Republicans that would enforce net neutrality rules in a strong enough manner to protect consumers.
Thune and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai (R), whose plan to scrap net neutrality rules is set to go into effect on June 11, say they oppose the rules because they impose unnecessary regulation on broadband companies.
They fear that such rules will stifle investment in broadband.
Pro-net neutrality activists are also trying to use the threat of politics to pressure Republicans. Fight for the Future, for example, plans to track members’ votes with a legislative scorecard and target those who don’t try to save the rules.
The group has already launched a series of billboards in the districts of some lawmakers who are opposed to net neutrality rules.
Fight for the Future says its aims are singularly focused on net neutrality, and not politics, but they believe that politicians who stand against the rules will take a political hit.
“Lawmakers who betray their constituents by voting to let net neutrality die, despite overwhelming public outcry, will inevitably pay for it at the polls,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future. “But that’s not the goal. The goal is restoring open internet protections for all, to ensure basic rights needed for a healthy democracy.”
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