How Senate Democrats Are Getting Ready for November, in Three Easy Steps

Telling positive anecdotes about Obamacare, demonizing “dark money,” and using the Senate floor are all part of the plan.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 11: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) answers questions following a weekly policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on March 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. Reid commented on allegations made by Sen. Dianne Feinstein regarding the CIA and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
National Journal
Michael Catalini
March 12, 2014, 5:05 p.m.

It’s no secret Sen­ate Demo­crats are in for a tough elec­tion. They star­ted the cycle with more vul­ner­able seats than Re­pub­lic­ans, the eco­nomy still lags in parts of the coun­try, and some will have to an­swer for Obama­care.

But Demo­crats are lin­ing up their coun­ter­punches, a one-two-three com­bin­a­tion that will high­light pos­it­ive an­ec­dotes on the Af­ford­able Care Act, de­mon­ize Re­pub­lic­an “dark money” in con­tested races, and rally the base from the Sen­ate floor, with le­gis­la­tion on the min­im­um wage and equal-pay pro­tec­tions — and this week’s overnight talk­a­thon on cli­mate change.

While law­makers are some­times re­luct­ant to lay a polit­ic­al lens over what some say is simply sound policy, it’s clear Sen­ate Demo­crats are do­ing everything they can in the cham­ber to pull the odds in their fa­vor.

“Look, I’m not gonna say people aren’t think­ing about the elec­tions,” said Demo­crat­ic Sen. Tim Kaine of Vir­gin­ia. “But is­sues have to be meas­ured ul­ti­mately by wheth­er they’re good policy. Good policy is good polit­ics.”

Sen­ate Demo­crats are de­fend­ing 21 seats, sev­en in states won by Re­pub­lic­ans in 2012, while Re­pub­lic­ans are de­fend­ing con­sid­er­ably less ter­rit­ory, risk­ing only Geor­gia and Ken­tucky. Re­pub­lic­ans need to net six seats to re­take the ma­jor­ity.

Obama­care is per­haps the largest li­ab­il­ity for Demo­crats, and Sen. Chris Murphy of Con­necti­c­ut has taken the lead in try­ing to re­but Re­pub­lic­an rhet­or­ic with pos­it­ive an­ec­dotes about the law.

AD­DRESS­ING OBAMA­CARE

“I think there’s been a real de­sire with­in the caucus to go on the of­fense, es­pe­cially after last fall when Demo­crats spent much of the time on de­fense, in part de­servedly be­cause of the con­di­tion of the web­site,” Murphy said, adding, “Demo­crats have been look­ing for a means through which to tell the really pos­it­ive stor­ies.”

Law­makers in tough races and those from states where the law is un­pop­u­lar are not play­ing a big role, but Murphy nev­er­the­less en­cour­ages Demo­crats not to run away from the law.

“I’ve run in one close con­tested elec­tion as a sup­port­er of the law, and I think time has shown that sup­port­ers of the law who try to pre­tend as if they didn’t vote for it end up los­ing more of­ten than not,” he said. “I do think that Demo­crats who sup­port this law should be out front, talk­ing about the be­ne­fits even while they make the case for com­mon-sense changes.”

THE ECO­NOM­IC MES­SAGE

Demo­crats are adding to their Obama­care ef­forts with an eco­nom­ic mes­sage. They have made no secret of their in­ten­tion to pur­sue eco­nom­ic is­sues that mo­tiv­ate their voter base, in­clud­ing a min­im­um-wage in­crease, equal-pay-for-equal-work le­gis­la­tion, and an ex­ten­sion of long-term un­em­ploy­ment-in­sur­ance be­ne­fits.

This week, they ad­ded cli­mate change to the list of is­sues. Led by Sen. Bri­an Schatz of Hawaii, Demo­crats talked overnight on the Sen­ate floor about the per­ils of man-made cli­mate change. Un­like with the oth­er eco­nom­ic ef­forts, though, there’s no ac­com­pa­ny­ing le­gis­la­tion, and Re­pub­lic­ans roundly cri­ti­cized the event as a pub­lic-re­la­tions ploy.

Wheth­er the talk­a­thon pro­duces any mean­ing­ful de­bate or le­gis­la­tion seems du­bi­ous. But the is­sue is pop­u­lar with Demo­crat­ic voters in some states. In Vir­gin­ia, where Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Warner faces Re­pub­lic­an chal­lenger and former Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ed Gillespie, Kaine says he has taken voters’ tem­per­at­ure on the is­sue and found it to be a win­ner.

“Vir­gini­ans want to be lead­ers in this stuff,” Kaine said. “When I was run­ning in 2012 I asked people — be­cause I’m such a strong be­liev­er [that] we’ve got to do something about cli­mate — I asked people what they thought, and Vir­gini­ans agree, not sur­pris­ingly.”

DE­MON­IZ­ING DARK MONEY

The Koch broth­ers, the con­ser­vat­ive bil­lion­aires who are pour­ing mil­lions in­to Sen­ate races in states like North Car­o­lina, Louisi­ana, and Michigan, are also in­creas­ingly at the re­ceiv­ing end of Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic cam­paign rhet­or­ic. Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id fam­ously said on the floor that the GOP is “ad­dicted to Koch.”

Sen. Kay Hagan of North Car­o­lina, per­haps the biggest tar­get of so-called “dark money” spend­ing, reg­u­larly head­lines emails with a dis­par­aging re­mark about the Kochs. The Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee has made ref­er­ence to the Koch broth­ers in no few­er than 77 emails in the last four months. Sen. Carl Lev­in of Michigan, whose re­tire­ment is open­ing up a seat now be­ing con­tested by Demo­crat­ic Rep. Gary Peters and Re­pub­lic­an Terri Lynn Land, said eco­nom­ic ques­tions are likely to be the top is­sue in the Great Lakes State, but that out­side spend­ing could also tip the scales. That ex­plains why Re­id has been shin­ing a light on the spend­ing, Lev­in said.

“There’s a real ques­tion about the way in which huge gobs of out­side money try to come in­to the states to try to in­flu­ence the out­come,” he said. “The Koch broth­ers are the biggest ex­ample of it.”

But will the Demo­crat­ic re­sponse — es­sen­tially talk­ing about it through a mega­phone — help in the elec­tion?

“Well, I’m op­tim­ist­ic,” he said. “But it’s gonna be a close race.”

What We're Following See More »
VERY FEW DEMS NOW REPRESENT MINING COMMUNITIES
How Coal Country Went from Blue to Red
51 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE
STAFF PICKS
History Already Being Less Kind to Hastert’s Leadership
3 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

In light of his recent confessions, the speakership of Dennis Hastert is being judged far more harshly. The New York Times' Carl Hulse notes that in hindsight, Hastert now "fares poorly" on a number of fronts, from his handling of the Mark Foley page scandal to "an explosion" of earmarks to the weakening of committee chairmen. "Even his namesake Hastert rule—the informal standard that no legislation should be brought to a vote without the support of a majority of the majority — has come to be seen as a structural barrier to compromise."

Source:
‘STARTING FROM ZERO’
Trump Ill Prepared for General Election
3 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Even if "[t]he Republican presidential nomination may be in his sights ... Trump has so far ignored vital preparations needed for a quick and effective transition to the general election. The New York businessman has collected little information about tens of millions of voters he needs to turn out in the fall. He's sent few people to battleground states compared with likely Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, accumulated little if any research on her, and taken no steps to build a network capable of raising the roughly $1 billion needed to run a modern-day general election campaign."

Source:
27TH AMENDMENT
Congress Can’t Seem Not to Pay Itself
6 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Rep. Dave Young can't even refuse his own paycheck. The Iowa Republican is trying to make a point that if Congress can't pass a budget (it's already missed the April 15 deadline) then it shouldn't be paid. But, he's been informed, the 27th Amendment prohibits him from refusing his own pay. "Young’s efforts to dock his own pay, however, are duck soup compared to his larger goal: docking the pay of every lawmaker when Congress drops the budget ball." His bill to stiff his colleagues has only mustered the support of three of them. Another bill, sponsored by Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), has about three dozen co-sponsors.

Source:
THE QUESTION
How Far Away from Cleveland is the California GOP Staying?
7 hours ago
THE ANSWER

Sixty miles away, in Sandusky, Ohio. "We're pretty bitter about that," said Harmeet Dhillon, vice chairwoman of the California Republican Party. "It sucks to be California, we're like the ugly stepchild. They need us for our cash and our donors, they don't need us for anything else."

×