2014 Midterm Offense v. Defense: ‘Disaster’ v. ‘Tough’ One

President Barack Obama walks toward Marine One on uly 22, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Photograph by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Barack Obama walks toward Marine One on uly 22, 2014 in Washington, DC.

A “summer of disengagement” by President Barack Obama will lead to a “disaster” for Democrats in the Nov. 4 midterm election, according to the Republican overseeing his party’s strategy in House races.

Voter disenchantment with Obama on issues including his health-care law and a surge of Central American children showing up at the U.S.-Mexico border show a “federal government that is not well-managed, and a disengaged president who’s not there doing the day-to-day job and seems sort of bored with that job,” Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told reporters today.

Fourteen weeks before the election, historical trends favor Republicans holding their majority — currently 234 to 199 — in a lower-turnout midterm election at the midpoint of Obama’s second term, even as the Republican Party has a poor public image. The White House’s party almost always loses ground in the House in midterm elections, and Obama’s approval rating is hovering around 40 percent.

Republicans are setting an “aspirational and ambitious goal” of winning 245 seats on Nov. 4, or 11 more than they control now, Walden said.

Their top targets include seven Democratic-held districts carried by Republicans George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney in the most recent presidential elections. Two of the districts are in Arizona, and there’s one each in Utah, Minnesota, West Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina. Republicans are heavily favored to win the Utah and North Carolina seats, held respectively by retiring Democrats Jim Matheson and Mike McIntyre.

“Democrats are on defense and we are on offense,” Walden said.

There aren’t many competitive House districts after a 2012 election in which 409 of the 435 districts, or 94 percent, voted for the same party’s nominees for president and House, a historically high level of straight-ticket voting. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report presently rates just 43 districts as competitive, including 13 in the most competitive category of “tossup.” Democrats are the defending party in 11 of those 13 districts.

Walden’s Democratic counterpart, New York Rep. Steve Israel, said earlier today that his party would offer “daily contrasts” between Democrats focused on the economy and Republicans he said are “obsessed” with suing Obama over his use of executive authority.

“It is a tough environment, but it is not a 2010 Tea Party environment,” Israel said in a reference to the election four years ago in which Republicans made a net gain of 63 seats after big Democratic gains in 2006 and 2008. Israel spoke at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

Israel said Democrats are focusing on issues affecting middle-class families, including student-loan debt, which he described as “an issue that has been hidden, that’s going to absolutely erupt.” The issue has salience in dozens of suburban and exurban congressional districts, he said. 

On health-care policy, Democrats who favor keeping Obama’s law while advocating changes have the stronger position than Republicans demanding straight repeal, Israel said.

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