In less than two weeks time, Americans will head to the polls and decide the hotly contested battle for the Senate. Current polling shows that it’s increasingly looking like the Republicans will control both chambers for the next two years.
I have been making the case for years, in both my writing and TV appearances, that the Republicans desperately need a positive agenda to be successful.
The 2012 election was the GOP’s to lose as President Obama and the Democrats had few legislative successes to hang their hat on. Instead of turning four years of slowed economic recovery and bungled foreign policy into a platform focused on a pro-growth economic agenda and a vision for a strong, resurgent America, the GOP focused only on opposing ObamaCare and negative campaigning–a tactic that held the House but did not afford them the Presidential win they were seeking.
This time around they have been luckier in that the President’s approval rating is lower than ever before–bouncing between the high 30s and low 40s–and the nation is facing major challenges. The beheadings by ISIS re-focused Americans on national security issues and domestic cases of Ebola raised questions as to whether the administration and the CDC are capable of handling a health crisis of this magnitude.
In both these areas, the President has failed to show consistent leadership and Americans have noticed. A Politico poll shows that two thirds of Americans think events in the US are “out of control,” with 84% viewing ISIS as a “serious” threat to the nation and only 22% saying they have confidence in the administration to handle the Ebola crisis.
Against this backdrop, the Democrats have failed to offer an innovative agenda of their own. They’re doubling down on what worked for them in 2012–emphasizing fairness, redistribution and equality.
To be sure, these are significant issues that deserve attention, but at a time when majorities of Americans do not feel that the Democrats have delivered for them–in jobs, opportunity, immigration reform or on the world stage–it has led to a lack of enthusiasm that is hurting them.
Compared to the 2010 wave election, in which more than half of voters stated that they were “extremely motivated to vote”, Gallup’s latest finding is that only a third of voters feel this way today. The survey also found that barely more than a third are “more enthusiastic than usual.” What’s more, a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 77% of Republicans report that they are certain to vote, compared to only 63% of Democrats.
Taken together, the situation doesn’t bode well for the Democrats. And we’re seeing the implications in current polling.
In races across the country, Republicans have inched ahead of Democrats. Dan Sullivan is leading Mark Begich in Alaska by more than four points in the Real Clear Politics average. Just a couple of weeks ago, Alison Grimes looked like she could edge out Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, but is now behind by over four points and is losing the support of the Democrat Senatorial Campaign Committee, which pulled the plug on TV ads for Grimes in the final two weeks.
The story is similar elsewhere. Mark Udall could very well lose his Colorado seat to Cory Gardner, who leads by over three points. Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor is down by more than five points to his Republican challenger Tom Cotton. And Republican Joni Ernst is leading Bruce Braley in Iowa by as much as four points.
In bright spots for the Democrats, Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire and Kay Hagan in North Carolina have taken back small leads in current polling. But their leads are within the margin of error and there can be no doubt that the Republicans aren’t going to give up the fight easily.
The upshot of all this is that the Republicans are in good position to take the six seats they need to control the Senate – and then some.
And they are accomplishing this without a clear, positive agenda for America or a real national campaign strategy. Democrats are hanging in there because Republicans have yet to give voters a reason to get behind them.
It follows that the Republican advantage very much falls at the feet of President Obama and Democrats, who have failed to instill confidence in their governing abilities and their vision for America’s future.
So in the short term the Republicans may prove that they don’t need a positive agenda to win the Senate. But in the longer term, they will need to carve out a program to win back popular confidence, win the Presidency and ultimately, govern–given the historically low ratings they garner.
As a result of shortcomings on both sides, it is the American people who are sure to suffer. And there shouldn’t be any better motivation for fixing our broken system than avoiding this same outcome in 2016.