Morning Plum: Can Dems run against inequality and plutocracy?

The Dem strategy of linking GOP candidates to Charles and David Koch isn’t really about the Koch brothers. It’s more a gamble on what swing voters think has happened to the economy, and on the reasons struggling Americans think they aren’t getting ahead.

Today’s new NBC/WSJ poll finds that 49 percent of Americans either don’t know who the Koch brothers are or are not sure about them. That finding is already being seized on to question the Dem strategy. But if you want to understand what the Dem “Koch addiction” push is really designed to achieve, these are the findings in the poll that really matter:

Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? “The economic and political systems in the country are stacked against people like me.”

Agree: 55

Disagree: 39

And:

Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? “Because of the widening gap between the incomes of the wealthy and everyone else, America is no longer a country where everyone, regardless of their background, has an opportunity to get ahead and move up to a better standard of living.”

Agree: 54

Disagree: 43

The Dem strategy of linking the Kochs to GOP candidates is of a piece with the emphasis on a “Fair Shot” agenda that includes raising the minimum wage, extending unemployment benefits, pay equity, and proposals for cheaper day care and spending to create jobs, paid for by closing tax loopholes enjoyed by the rich and corporations. The basic story Dems are trying to tell is that the economy is no longer functioning properly for ordinary and hard working Americans – the gains of the recovery have gone overwhelmingly to the top; wages and mobility have stagnated; inequality has soared. The case is that Dems are offering a concrete policy agenda to begin to deal with these problems. Meanwhile, as Jonathan Chait has put it, the GOP continues to build its “policy agenda around plutocracy,” and its “organizing purpose” remains “to safeguard the economic interests of the very rich.”

In short, Dems are making an argument about what has happened to the economy, and which party actually has a plan to do something about it. Today’s NBC/WSJ poll finds support for the general idea that the economy is not distributing gains fairly and is rigged against ordinary Americans. The question is who will win the argument over its causes and solutions. Republicans have cast Obamacare as the primary cause of swing voters’ economic anxieties (those Americans for Prosperity ads featuring worried middle aged women are really about playing on sentiments about the economy and channeling blame in the direction of Big Government). The Democratic case is that the all-Obamacare-all-the-time message is merely meant to mask the GOP’s lack of any actual affirmative economic agenda, and even reveals the GOP’s priorities remain to roll back any efforts by Dems to ameliorate economic insecurity.

Critics of the Dem strategy might point out that this could work against Dems, because it reflects badly on the Obama economy. That may be, but the Dem case is based on a gamble that swing voters see the story of what has happened to the economy as a longer one rooted in multiple trends that have undermined middle class security for many years. And indeed, today’s NBC poll finds that, six years into the Obama presidency, more Americans (47-39) see the current economic situation as one he inherited, rather than one that his policies created.

I don’t know if the Dem strategy will work. The realities of the Senate map could be impossible to overcome. But one other data point worth remembering is that, for all the disapproval of Obama, Dems still hold solid leads on who can be trusted to help the middle class, and the GOP is still widely seen as prioritizing the interests of the rich – metrics rooted in “economic values” that were badly overlooked in 2012, but ended up mattering more than generic disapproval numbers.

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Update: The good folks at NBC send over more numbers, and it turns out that 58 percent of independents, and 61 percent of non-college whites, agree that the economy and political systems are stacked against them. And 50 percent of independents, and 55 percent of non-college whites, agree that America is no longer a place where everyone has an opportunity to get you ahead.

This is a reminder that the broad argument Dems are making here isn’t just about juicing the base; it’s also about winning persuadable voters who may tilt Republican in these red states.

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* REPUBLICANS TO SINK MINIMUM WAGE HIKE TODAY: The Senate is set to vote on raising the minimum wage today, and all signs are that virtually all Republicans will vote against it, meaning it will go down. GOP sympathizers are hyping the idea that some Dems will defect, too, but it looks to me like all Senate Dems — with the exception of Mark Pryor — will vote Yes.

So Dems will use this to draw an economic contrast with Republicans — and it will feature heavily in Senate races, particularly against Thom Tillis in North Carolina and Mitch McConnell in Kentucky.

* OPINION STILL SHARPLY POLARIZED ON HEALTH LAW: The new NBC/WSJ poll also finds approval of Obamacare low, at 36-46. But this is interesting:

When it comes to your opinion about the health care law, do you feel that it…

Is working the well it is: 8

Needs minor modifications to improve it: 40

Needs a major overhaul: 28

Should be totally eliminated: 21

So the Republican position of full repeal is at 21 percent. However, in fairness, the “major overhaul” category reflects deep dissatisfaction with the law, though “major overhaul” could mean anything. The 48-49 split — between those who think it’s working and those who think it needs a major overhaul or should be eliminated — probably reflects what we’ve seen in many polls going back years now: Sharp polarization around the law.

* PRO-OBAMACARE CANDIDATE LEADS IN FLORIDA: A new Quinnipiac poll finds Charlie Crist with a 10 point lead over incumbent governor Rick Scott, 48-38. Crist, you may recall, is campaigning very aggressively on Obamacare, while Scott has spent $4 million on ads attacking him over the law. Needless to say, this finding will simply not register with those who continue to push the twin narratives that the ACA is nothing but a uniform disaster for Dems and they are running away from it en masse.

* CONSERVATIVES TURN ON JOHN BOEHNER: Too funny. The Washington Examiner reports that House conservatives are now saying their problem on immigration is that they can’t trust John Boehner:

Some Republicans…say its becoming harder to trust Boehner because he has repeatedly made public comments that appear to insult the most conservative faction of the House GOP conference, a group backed by the Tea Party that has regularly bucked the leadership.

Can we talk? The problem is that House conservatives are not willing to embrace any form of legal status for the 11 million. John Boehner has a simple decision to make: Either those folks will set the GOP agenda on immigration, or they won’t.

* OUTSIDE GROUPS DRIVING 2014 CAMPAIGNS: Matea Gold on the findings of a new study:

Interest groups have sponsored 59 percent of television ads that have aired in Senate races so far this cycle — up from 51 percent in 2012…In North Carolina, interest groups have run 90 percent of television ads…Michigan was not far behind, with outside groups sponsoring almost 87 percent of ads. In Louisiana, independent political organizations have run 85 percent of ads, while in Kentucky, they paid for 75 percent of the spots.

Worth keeping an eye on: Whether things will change once the campaigns themselves really start engaging on the air with their own ads.

* DEMS SEND IN REINFORCEMENTS FOR KAY HAGAN: Meanwhile, Reid Wilson reports that the Dem-aligned Senate Majority PAC is going up with a new $230,000 ad buy in North Carolina, to counter spending there by outside GOP-aligned groups. Once the Dem campaigns really engage, it’s possible the disparity Republicans are enjoying could be mitigated.

* AND THE GOP ECONOMIC PLAN: Senate Republicans will filibuster the minimum wage hike, and will instead push for a vote on the Keystone pipeline, which, along with the repeal of Obamacare, appears to be central to the GOP plan to fix the economy. Of course, in fairness, it looks as if Harry Reid may now allow a vote on Keystone, apparently to allow vulnerable red state Dems to achieve distance from Pelosi-Reid-Obummer national Dems.

What else?

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.
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