Is GOP Momentum Entering 2014 a Mirage?

Republicans’ Obamacare attacks are hurting Democrats in the polls but the GOP might be too distracted to translate that into a November win.

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 13: U.S. Senate Majority Whip Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) (3rd L) reacts as (L-R) Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) look on during a news conference on facility closures of U.S. Postal Service December 13, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The senators announced the Postal Service has voluntarily agreed to a request for a five-month moratorium until May 15 on closing postal facilities. 
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Beth Reinhardd
Jan. 3, 2014, midnight

The 2014 elec­tions should be the Re­pub­lic­an Party’s to lose.

There’s simply not much reas­on for Demo­crat­ic op­tim­ism. Pres­id­ents al­most al­ways shed con­gres­sion­al seats in their second term, and with polls show­ing ap­prov­al of Barack Obama at re­cord lows, there’s little reas­on to ex­pect a de­par­ture from trend. Plus, Demo­crats need to pick up 17 seats to re­cov­er the House, an un­ques­tion­ably heavy lift, while sev­er­al of the party’s in­cum­bent sen­at­ors are vul­ner­able, thanks largely to their sup­port for Obama­care.

But don’t call it for the GOP too soon. Re­pub­lic­ans are dan­ger­ously dis­trac­ted by a civil war between the party’s prag­mat­ic, busi­ness-ori­ented es­tab­lish­ment and its con­ser­vat­ive, tea-party-fueled grass­roots. It’s the im­mig­ra­tion re­form ad­voc­ates versus the Duck Dyn­asty fan base, the budget deal closers versus the gov­ern­ment shut­down ringlead­ers.

What’s more, the GOP has done little to gain the con­fid­ence of wo­men and minor­it­ies, who soundly re­jec­ted Mitt Rom­ney in 2012, while Demo­crats are hon­ing a po­ten­tially win­ning, elec­tion-year in­come-in­equal­ity theme.

In­deed, in a sign of what’s to come, the lib­er­al group Amer­ic­ans United for Change aired an end-of-the-year tele­vi­sion ad, ask­ing: “Do you know who had a Merry Christ­mas? The richest 1 per­cent, that’s who.” The spot lam­bastes con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans for shut­ting off un­em­ploy­ment be­ne­fits to 1.3 mil­lion people while Demo­crats over the last month have ramped up their cri­ti­cisms of the GOP for op­pos­ing an in­crease in the min­im­um wage.

And in per­haps the strongest sig­nal that Re­pub­lic­ans aren’t po­si­tioned quite as well as it might have seemed ex­it­ing 2013, the Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee has out­raised its GOP coun­ter­part by $16 mil­lion so far this elec­tion cycle.

“It feels like the winds are blow­ing our way in terms of tak­ing over the Sen­ate, but there is very real con­cern about the col­lect­ive abil­ity of our side to amass the re­sources ne­ces­sary to seize this op­por­tun­ity,” said Re­pub­lic­an con­sult­ant Curt An­der­son. “Many of our donors are un­der­stand­ably gun shy after get­ting very little re­turn on their in­vest­ments over the past few years.”

Still, Demo­crats con­cede they still are los­ing badly on Obama­care. The Re­pub­lic­an Party has opened a four-point lead in the gen­er­ic con­gres­sion­al bal­lot, ac­cord­ing to the latest CNN/ORC In­ter­na­tion­al poll. (Demo­crats led 50-42 per­cent in Oc­to­ber.) “The latest Re­pub­lic­an as­sault on Obama­care has proven to be dan­ger­ously ef­fect­ive,” ac­know­ledged the Demo­crat­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee in a re­cent e-mail blast.

Already, Demo­crats have little chance of re­gain­ing con­trol of the House (though they are eagerly eye­ing three re­cently an­nounced Re­pub­lic­an re­tire­ments in swing dis­tricts — Bill Young in Flor­ida, Frank Wolf in Vir­gin­ia, and Tom Lath­am in Iowa). And in the Sen­ate, Re­pub­lic­ans now have a de­cent shot at net­ting six seats to com­plete a takeover, thanks to a strategy that has put Demo­crats who voted for the health care law in the hot seat. Among them: Mary Landrieu of Louisi­ana, Mark Be­gich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Car­o­lina, and Mark Pry­or of Arkan­sas.

“It’s time to be hon­est. Obama­care doesn’t work,” Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity says in a new ad cam­paign at­tack­ing Landrieu, Hagan, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in New Hamp­shire.

But the civil war wrack­ing the Re­pub­lic­an Party com­plic­ates the pic­ture. Most of the 12 Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors up for re-elec­tion have drawn tea party-fueled chal­lengers. In the most danger of be­com­ing the next Richard Lugar of In­di­ana or Robert Ben­nett of Utah is Sen. Thad Co­chran of Mis­sis­sippi, whose Re­pub­lic­an chal­lenger has locked down sup­port from sev­er­al con­ser­vat­ive groups. And a crowded Re­pub­lic­an primary that in­cludes three con­gress­men who backed the gov­ern­ment shut­down could end up eas­ing the pres­sure on Demo­crat­ic fron­trun­ner Michelle Nunn for an open Sen­ate seat in Geor­gia.

And as un­pop­u­lar as Pres­id­ent Obama has be­come, an even smal­ler share of Amer­ic­ans fa­vor the tea party and con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans.

“So, are we win­ning right now? Who knows,” said Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee spokes­man Mo El­leithee in a 2013 wrap-up that con­veyed the muddled play­ing field. “But what the polling tells me is that the oth­er side most def­in­itely is not win­ning right now, des­pite all of their bluster.”


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