Every U.S. House and Senate race is unique, as we are a constitutional republic and our legislative seats are not dependent upon a national vote. Nonetheless, in every election, one or more major issues cuts through a swath of the American electorate. With exceptions, such as the post-September 11 national security election, in the vast majority of American elections the major common issues are “pocket book” issues.
Curiously, then, watching the political advertising now ubiquitous on the various media as we head into the home stretch of the 2018 midterm elections, it appears the Democrats have found a unifying common message; and, inexplicably, that Republicans have not.
Out of power in both the executive branch and in both chambers of the legislature, Democrats have gambled that it is best for them to attack and, only if necessary, to defend. As the minority party, they have more candidates without a congressional voting record to defend and they have the advantage of being able to rail against whatever the majority party does or doesn’t do. The party out of power always does this. Why? Because, first and foremost, voters either credit or condemn the party in power for the country’s direction.
Thus, with the economy continuing its astounding growth, one would think the GOP would have a relatively easy election and could ride the “green wave” into the retention—possibly, even the expansion—of its House and Senate majorities.
As expected (by everyone except, perhaps, Republican incumbents and their consultants), the Democrats have chosen a vital segment of the overall robust economy as their common, unifying theme, in order to mute the prosperous green wave enhancing and securing the hearths and homes of most Americans.
The Democrats’ issue is health care—notably how the GOP wants to strip away people’s protections for pre-existing conditions, as well as other sundry mean-spirited health care sins. By choosing this critical part of the economy, the Democrats are capitalizing on the old verity, “it means nothing if you don’t have your health” to distract from and rhetorically mask this booming economy.
Now, before you go ballistic, this is not to say this line of political attack is accurate; but it is, in fact, the major issue upon which the Democrats have united and are using to drive discussion. And, in many House districts, it is working.
In the past, as with any party in power during a midterm election, the targeted Republican members of Congress were playing defense first and offense second. It is less a question of politics than one of human nature: incumbents defend the seat they already hold against challengers who attack to take it from them. In 2018, it is unfortunate that the GOP hewed to this predictable pattern rather than going on the offensive using the economy from Day One and continuing until election day.
Of course, pundits and polls claim the booming economy is not an issue for voters. Even if one assumes this is accurate (and I don’t), it would be in no small part because of the GOP’s failure to trumpet their accomplishments effectively while sounding the alarm that the economy would be in jeopardy if the Democrats gain a majority in one or both chambers of Congress. This—rather than the Democrats’ “health scare” attacks—would have formed the political prism through which these midterm contests would have been viewed.
In sum, the central issue cutting across all campaigns would be: do you want continued opportunity and prosperity or unemployment and stagnation?
Oh, sure, the GOP tried, in fits and starts, to hang 10 around the green wave. But to date they have surfed it less than satisfactorily. Now, with precious few weeks remaining in the campaign, the lingering question is whether enough Republican incumbents still have time to catch the green wave or if, instead, they will be swept out to sea by a blue wave that also wipes out our expanding economy.
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