Midterm bout: Obamacare vs. Tea Party
Two emerging voting blocs could shape congressional elections in 2014: those who consider Tea Party members extremists and obstructionists, and those who point to the ills of Obamacare and its bungled beginning as proof that it's time for change.
Experts say the midterms could give President Obama control in the final two years of his presidency, or cause him to compromise his agenda by working with a Republican majority.
Democrats warn about the “dangers” of a Tea Party-controlled Congress. Republicans argue the perils of overreaching government programs such as the Affordable Care Act. The feelings run deep, say two strategists on opposing sides.
“For the last two elections, we've told voters how bad Obamacare was gonna be, and voters just had to take our word for it,” said Brad Todd, a Republican media consultant with OnMessage Inc. in Alexandria, Va. “But in 2014, we know how bad Obamacare is. Running against a concrete disaster is a heckuva lot easier than running against a theoretical disaster.”
John Lapp, a Democratic consultant with Ralston Lapp Media in Washington, said Democrats will talk about getting things done because the Tea Party blocks progress.
“I think you're going to see Democrats saying loud and clear that they are the ones focused on the middle class, with an agenda to grow our economy,” Lapp said.
Lapp and Todd, who shaped messages for their parties' respective big wins in 2006 and 2010, are known for edgy advertising.
They'll compete in tough races again. Democrats must rally a net gain of 17 seats to win control of the lower chamber of Congress; Republicans need six seats to regain control of the Senate.
“The two parties have their positions, Tea Party versus Obamacare, but the critical issue is that one is more recent than the other,” said David Woodard, a political scientist at Clemson University in South Carolina who suggests that disgust with Obamacare might trump the 2010 rise of the Tea Party, when people were upset with government bailouts, because the health insurance issue is newer.
“We don't know what effect Obamacare will have, but if polls today are accurate, it is going to be a heavy burden of Democrats to carry in 2014,” Woodard said.
Robert Mozell, a public policy professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., thinks the Democratic message will depend on what emerges from arguments over Obamacare: “If, as they claim, Americans will eventually warm up to the program and want to preserve it, then the political debates will be very different.”
Mozell also will watch for any impact of the ideological struggle between fiscal and social conservatives in the Republican Party.
All Americans, said Lapp, “are fed up with Washington gridlock and dysfunction.” He blames the Tea Party's willingness “to take us to the brink of economic default, in the name of a dangerous and reckless agenda.”
But most voters trust Republicans to stop government programs, Todd said: “With Obamacare, you have a poorly run program that needs to be stopped.”
The ‘6-year itch'
With the exception of Bill Clinton in 1998, second-term presidents since the end of the Civil War have weathered their party's loss of House and Senate seats.
By that time, said Woodard, many voters are fatigued by a president's rhetoric, image and familiarity.
“All second-term presidents face the six-year itch,” he said.
Another factor that may hurt Democrats' chances next year is that the problematic government-run insurance website is only one of several recent lurches for the White House.
Critics accuse the National Security Agency, Justice Department and Internal Revenue Service of abusing their power. Some say Obama mishandled the response to Syria's civil war. And drone strikes in Pakistan, which Obama defended as a way to target al-Qaida militants, caused tension between Washington and Islamabad.
Yet Republicans face problems that have cost them public trust: rifts within the party; a tarnished brand from obstructionism; a bitter fight over budget and debt that led to October's temporary government shutdown.
Freefall in polls
Voter discontent shows. In late October, after the shutdown but before the full impact of Obamacare, a poll found Democrats held a 50 percent to 42 percent advantage over Tea Party Republicans in a generic ballot that CNN/ORC International put to registered voters. A month later, the CNN/ORC poll found Republicans had a 49 percent to 47 percent edge.
Obama's popularity hit a historic low during the health care law's rollout and the revelation that he wrongly told people they could keep insurance policies they liked; companies canceled policies that did not meet more stringent coverage standards.
Last week, a RealClearPolitics polling average showed Obama with a 39.9 percent approval rating. Unless he reverses that, “the 2014 midterms could end up worse than usual for his party,” Mozell said.
Salena Zito is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Westmoreland County Community College trustees approve $38M preliminary budget
- Starkey: Kang story of the year for Pirates
- Fayette deputy warden asks for more guards
- Fayette County Salary Board adds jobs, OKs additional hirings
- Westmoreland County Transit Authority to consider raising bus fare rate for paratransit participants
- Allgheny County charter school students give more than $11K to assist homeless children
- IRS cybersecurity breach touches lives of homebuyers, others
- Healthy defensive back Mitchell eager for 2nd season with Steelers
- Penguins GM Rutherford ‘wouldn’t make’ Despres trade today
- Central Catholic knocks off Norwin to win 1st WPIAL baseball title
- Judge lashes UPMC, Highmark in consent decree violation hearing