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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Unlike previous midterm election years, no dominant theme has emerged for 2014

From The Washington Post:

This is an election about nothing — and everything. Unlike in previous midterm election years, no dominant national theme has emerged for the 2014 campaign, according to public opinion surveys as well as interviews last week with scores of voters in five key states and with dozens of politicians and party strategists.

Even without a single salient issue, a heavy cloud of economic anxiety and general unease is hanging over the fiercely partisan debate. Listening to voters, you hear a downbeat tone to everything political — the nation’s economy, infrastructure and schools; the crises flaring around the world; the evolving culture wars at home; immigration laws; President Obama and other elected leaders in Washington.

Over the past 20 years, every midterm election has had a driving theme. In 1994, Newt Gingrich led Republicans to power in a backlash against President Clinton’s domestic agenda. In 1998, it was a rebuke to Republicans for their drive to impeach Clinton. Terrorism motivated voters in 2002, while anger over the Iraq war propelled Democratic gains in 2006. And 2010 turned into an indictment of Obama’s economic stewardship and, for many, his health-care plan.

As long as it has been polling, Gallup has asked voters to state their “most important problem.” For the first midterm cycle since 1998, no single issue registers with more than 20 percent of voters. Immigration was the top concern for 17 percent of those Gallup surveyed in July, while 16 percent said government dissatisfaction and 15 percent the economy.

The result could be an especially unpredictable final 12 weeks of the campaign. With voter turnout expected to be low and several big races virtually tied, campaigns everywhere are searching for pressure points — by taking advantage of news events or colorful and, at times, highly parochial issues — to motivate their base voters to go to the polls.

Democrats, who are eager to drive African Americans to the polls, have been sounding the alarm over threats to impeach Obama, even though Republican House leaders insist that is not a real possibility.

The lack of a dominant issue also means that campaigns could be more susceptible than in other years to events this fall. Republicans believe, for instance, that if Obama signs an executive order granting legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants, as White House officials have indicated he might, it will create a huge backlash against Democrats.

And after a summer dominated by problems around the globe — a downed plane in Ukraine, war in the Middle East and the return of U.S. bombs in Iraq — continued trouble abroad could further dampen support for the president and his party.

There is hope in the uncertainty for both parties. Democrats believe they have an opening to use wedge issues, such as same-sex marriage, access to birth control and abortion, to rally opposition against Republicans. Republicans, meanwhile, see the potential to expand their opportunities and turn what they expect to be a good year into a great one.

Democrats believe the question that drove voters in 2012 will do so again this fall: Which party is on your side? Democratic candidates are using a more populist pitch than in previous years, touting such proposals as increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and pay equity for women.

“It’s about the fight for working-class and middle-class people contrasted with a fight by Republicans for those at the top,” said Joel Benenson, who served as Obama’s campaign pollster.

The party’s rhetoric about the growing divide between the rich and the poor has become more strident. Even in Republican-leaning states, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a liberal who talks tough about Wall Street, has emerged as a popular surrogate this summer.

Candidates are grappling with voters’ deeply rooted disgust with politicians and apathy toward affairs in Washington. Republicans are banking on voters placing blame squarely on Obama.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll last week found that 51 percent of all Americans disapprove of the job that their own member of Congress is doing — a record high in a quarter century of Post-ABC polling on this question.

Neil Newhouse, Mitt Romney’s pollster during the 2012 campaign, warned that Republicans should not see the president’s sagging summer poll numbers as evidence of sure disaster for Democrats.

“Republicans made this mistake two years ago when Democrats managed to get voters to the [polls] who were not enthusiastic and lukewarm toward the president,” he said. “Republicans are reading the tea leaves a little too early.”

“A couple years ago in a presidential debate, Governor [Mitt] Romney said Russia was our biggest threat coming up in the future and the president kind of laughed it off and the media kind of laughed it off,” Atwood said.

“I’m on the Intelligence Committee, so I can’t tell you everything,” a smiling Warner replied, winning laughs from the crowd. “Obama isn’t the first president hoodwinked by Putin,” Warner added, offering an impersonation of former President George W. Bush’s comment about looking into Putin’s eyes to get “a sense of his soul.”

A large share of those spots have been focused on the Affordable Care Act. In the first four months of the year, 35 percent of broadcast and national cable TV ads in Senate races took aim at the health-care overhaul, according to data analyzed by the Wesleyan Media Project.

Yet polls suggest relatively few voters have cited their opposition to the law as their animating issue.

“It’s really remarkable that six months ago, it was all about Obamacare,” said William J. Bennett, a former Reagan administration official who hosts a talk show on conservative radio. “Nine out of 10 calls we’d get, if we asked people about their biggest problem, it was Obamacare. Now we can go a week without talking about it on the program.”

In interviews across North Carolina, voters frequently praised the Affordable Care Act. Anna McAllister, a Republican-leaning independent, said the new law has made her reconsider her view of Obama.

“I still don’t think he’s my favorite,” McAllister said of the president, “but it’s helped.”

Nevertheless, discontent with the president suffused nearly every conversation with dozens of voters in North Carolina, which Obama won in 2008 and lost in 2012.

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