Increasingly anxious about the prospect of a difficult election year, Democratic candidates are already starting to take refuge in one of the party’s most tried-and-true issues: Social Security.
It’s happening in Arkansas, where Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor has deployed a blitz of TV ads to accuse his opponent, GOP Rep. Tom Cotton, of plotting to cut, privatize, and undermine the popular entitlement program. House Majority PAC, a super PAC that helps Democratic House candidates, has similarly taken to the airwaves to argue that Republican candidates want to effectively get rid of it.
And in Florida, where the parties face off in a special House election next week, Social Security has been the Democrats’ go-to attack against Republican David Jolly. “I don’t think it’s right for David Jolly to risk Social Security money in the stock market,” said one negative ad, featuring an elderly couple talking into the camera.
The attacks are the first glimpses of an issue the party will push to the forefront of the 2014 elections, according to Democratic strategists. With candidates battered by Obamacare’s deepening unpopularity, Social Security represents one of their surest bets of putting Republicans on the defensive in a year when the GOP otherwise plans to play a lot of offense.
“Social Security remains a potent an issue for Democrats,” said Jef Pollock, a Democratic strategist. “In multiple national polls, data shows that voters believe that the Democrats are better able to protect Social Security going forward, and have also seen ample evidence about the reckless approach that most GOPers have taken to privatizing the system — something that is a real negative for any GOP candidate.”
The question is whether this amounts to smart strategy or a desperate play from a party with nowhere else to turn. The last great Democratic hope for political success — the GOP’s support for Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to voucherize Medicare for future beneficiaries — failed to deliver the sweeping congressional victories Democrats had promised. And the issue hardly addresses the election’s current topic du jour, the troubled implementation of Obamacare.
“The national environment for Democrats is terrible, so they’re looking for any specific things they can, grasping at straws,” said Keith Emis, a pollster for Cotton. “The election is about Obamcare, and they want it to be about something else.”
As a political issue, Social Security has laid relatively dormant in recent years, supplanted by a fierce debate over health care, Medicare, and Obamacare. President Obama largely sidestepped it during his last presidential campaign, instead striking a conciliatory note that the two parties should be able to negotiate over the program’s future.
It flared briefly last year, when discussions began over implementing the “chained CPI,” a proposal that would have effectively cut payouts to beneficiaries. The plan from Obama angered progressive Democrats who considered the policy and politics wrongheaded, and even the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Greg Walden, warned his fellow Republicans about the proposal’s political consequences.
But it makes sense that some Democratic candidates would, along with continued attacks on Medicare, dust off the line of criticism now. It’s dictated in part by the real estate of the 2014 election: Most of this year’s competitive House and Senate races — such as those in Arkansas or Louisiana — are in conservative, older, and whiter states. In places like those, Social Security is one of the few issues where the Democratic agenda remains well-liked among voters. Polls show that seniors, even those who are Republican, have a deep aversion to cutting the program even if it would help the country’s deficit.
“You’ll see Medicare and Social Security right at the forefront of the contrast we’re drawing between ourselves and our opponent,” said Erik Dorey, spokesman for Pryor’s campaign.
The senator’s campaign says its attacks against Cotton have resonance because the freshman House member voted for a budget last year that supported raising the retirement programs’ eligibility age. Other Republicans, however, point out that it’s hardly a front-burner issue in Washington or elsewhere. While Obamacare is driven into the public consciousness by countless news stories about its foibles, delays, and broken promises, nothing makes Social Security similarly relevant in 2014.
“I think there’s nothing to push back against; it’s not an issue,” said Peter Feaman, a Republican National Committee member from Florida, who’s watching his state’s special-election race closely. “It’s made up out of whole cloth. Point to some bill somewhere that’s talking about reducing benefits for Social Security recipients — it’s not there, at all.”
What We're Following See More »
"It is with humility, determination, and boundless confidence in America’s promise that I accept your nomination for president," said Hillary Clinton in becoming the first woman to accept a nomination for president from a major party. Clinton gave a wide-ranging address, both criticizing Donald Trump and speaking of what she has done in the past and hopes to do in the future. "He's taken the Republican party a long way, from morning in America to midnight in America," Clinton said of Trump. However, most of her speech focused instead on the work she has done and the work she hopes to do as president. "I will be a president of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. For the struggling, the striving, the successful," she said. "For those who vote for me and for those who don't. For all Americans together."
Supporters of Bernie Sanders promised to walk out, turn their backs, or disrupt Hillary Clinton's speech tonight, and they made good immediately, with an outburst almost as soon as Clinton began her speech. But her supporters, armed with a handy counter-chant cheat sheet distributed by the campaign, immediately began drowning them out with chants of "Hillary, Hillary!"
If a new poll is to be believed, Hillary Clinton has a big lead in the all-important swing state of Pennsylvania. A new Suffolk University survey shows her ahead of Donald Trump, 50%-41%. In a four-way race, she maintains her nine-point lead, 46%-37%. "Pennsylvania has voted Democratic in the past six presidential elections, going back to Bill Clinton’s first win in 1992. Yet it is a rust belt state that could be in play, as indicated by recent general-election polling showing a close race."
Wednesday was the third night in a row that the Democratic convention enjoyed a ratings win over the Republican convention last week. Which might have prompted a fundraising email from Donald Trump exhorting supporters not to watch. "Unless you want to be lied to, belittled, and attacked for your beliefs, don't watch Hillary's DNC speech tonight," the email read. "Instead, help Donald Trump hold her accountable, call out her lies and fight back against her nasty attacks."
Catholics who attend mass at least weekly have increased their support of the Democratic nominee by 22 points, relative to 2012, when devout Catholics backed Mitt Romney. Meanwhile, a Morning Consult poll shows that those voters with advanced degrees prefer Hillary Clinton, 51%-34%. Which, we suppose, makes the ideal Clinton voter a Catholic with a PhD in divinity.