US Republicans and Democrats are looking for fresh ways to pitch old arguments as they head into the final midterm election year of US President Barack Obama’s time in the White House.
Eager to capitalize as the president’s job approval rating hovers in the low 40 percent range, Republicans are looking to hammer the clumsy implementation of Obama’s healthcare overhaul and bemoan an economy that, while improving, still grows too slowly. They are already painting Democrats as fiscally irresponsible underlings of an increasingly unpopular president whose government creates more problems than it solves.
Democrats say they will run as the party of average Americans and paint Republicans as out-of-touch allies of the wealthy, with a stubborn streak that forced a partial government shutdown and still prevents practical solutions for national problems. They are advocating populist positions like a minimum-wage increase and an end to tax breaks for energy companies, and they are already reminding voters of Republicans’ struggle to connect with women, non-whites and younger Americans.
They are also looking to exploit the rift between Tea Party conservatives and establishment Republicans.
Republicans hold the US House majority, and Democrats control the US Senate; so each side wants to reclaim a second chamber to end the Capitol Hill divide that has largely resulted in gridlock for the past three years. Also at stake are a majority of governors’ seats, which control key policy decisions around the country and will help shape the landscape for the 2016 presidential election.
Leaders and strategists from each party insist that they will have fresh twists to the healthcare fight now entering its fourth year. Since much of the healthcare law takes effect this year, voters will be reacting to actual outcomes rather than just political hyperbole from either side.
“Obamacare is in absolute chaos,” wrote Republican Senate campaign spokesman Brad Dayspring in his year-end review. “Vulnerable Democratic incumbents and candidates ... can’t keep their own spin straight.”
Republicans have enjoyed the technical struggles of the federal online exchanges where customers can attempt to buy coverage.
However, perhaps the best gift for the Republicans: Insurers dropping tens of thousands of policy holders and offering them more comprehensive — and expensive — coverage despite Obama’s explicit promise in 2010 that “if you like your plan, you can keep it.”
That promises to be an acute issue for several Senate Democrats — Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina — who are running for re-election for the first time since voting for the healthcare law in 2010.
Many Democrats concede that the president’s 2010 promise could be a millstone. They counter that Republicans’ core argument, particularly from their most conservative candidates, is for outright repeal: House Republicans, including many running for key Senate seats, have voted more than 40 times to scrap the entire law.
“Everything we see tells us that voters want to improve the law, not repeal it,” said Representative Steve Israel, the New York Democrat who chairs his party’s congressional campaign committee. A Gallup poll last month showed that 54 percent of Americans disapprove of the law, but just 32 percent support repeal.