Why Democrats should listen to Joe Biden

June 12, 2013

For Democrats in search of a message that might not only galvanize their party's base but also persuade independents in what history suggests will be a tough midterm election next November, Joe Biden laid out a blueprint Tuesday night.


Vice President Joe Biden.

Speaking at a fundraiser in D.C. for Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey's special Senate election campaign, the vice president launched into a lengthy broadside against the current state of the Republican Party.

Here's the meat of what he said:

"This is not your father’s Republican Party. It really is a fundamentally different party. There’s never been as much distance -- at least since I’ve been alive --- distance between where the mainstream of the Republican congressional party is and the Democratic Party is. It’s a chasm. It’s a gigantic chasm. ... But the last thing in the world we need now is someone who will go down to the United States Senate and support Ted Cruz, support the new senator from Kentucky (Rand Paul) -- or the old senator from Kentucky (Mitch McConnell). ... Think about this: Have you ever seen a time when two freshman senators are able to cower the bulk of the Republican Party in the Senate? That is not hyperbole.”

Biden went on -- he's never at a loss for words -- to detail how, in conversations he had with nine Republican senators prior to the votes on President Obama's gun bill, the most common reason cited for their opposition was a fear of "taking on" Cruz or Paul.

The picture Biden is trying to paint is this: The Republican party is beholden to absolutists like Cruz and Paul who view any compromise as a concession, that a vote for any Republican for Senate -- even one like Gabriel Gomez who has worked hard to avoid any connections to the national GOP during his campaign against Markey -- is a vote for that sort of my-way-or-the-highway approach that subjugates getting things done to philosophical principles. (Tougher gun background checks, which national polling suggested had widespread support among the American public, is Exhibit A for Biden in making that argument.)

And poll after poll has shown the GOP remains in poorer stead with the American people than the Democratic Party. A recent Post-ABC News poll showed Americans thought Republicans in Congress were more focused on issues that aren't pertinent to them than those that are by a 60-33 margin. For Democrats, the split was 50 percent non-pertinent and 43 percent pertinent.

It's obvious why such a message works to rev up a Democratic base that struggled in the 2010 midterms to generate the sort of passion that propelled President Obama to wider-than-expected victories in 2008 and 2012. Cruz, and to a lesser extent Paul, have both emerged as the sort of national bogeymen for Democrats that Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy were once for Republicans. Just mention Cruz or Paul to a base Democratic voter, and their desire to give money and/or show up at the ballot box in 2014 goes up.

The potency of the "just too extreme" message among independents is demonstrated by the success of Democratic Senate candidates in conservative-leaning states like Indiana and Missouri in 2012. There's no way that Claire McCaskill wins re-election or Joe Donnelly gets elected without winning a large majority of those voters who identify themselves as independents.

Now, running against Todd Akin in Missouri or Richard Mourdock in Indiana is a very different thing than trying to use Cruz or Paul in a Senate race in Louisiana, North Carolina or Iowa. The question for Democrats is whether tying Cruz to, say, Rep. Bill Cassidy, the likely nominee against Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), can (a) be done and (b) move voters. While political junkies know Cruz and Paul, does the average voter in a state they have never represented or likely even visited know who they are?

What's not in doubt is that, if the Louisiana race becomes a vote on Obama and national Democrats, Landrieu will lose. Ditto Senate races in South Dakota, West Virginia, North Carolina and Arkansas.

Biden is counseling his party to make 2014 a referendum on Republicans, not Democrats. It's not an easy sell, but it may well be Democrats' best bet in what, on paper, should be a very difficult election.

Fixbits:

Ed Markey and Gabriel Gomez debate for the second time.

San Antonio Mayor and Democratic National Convention star Julian Castro (D) criticizes Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) approach on the immigration bill.

Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) won't run for Senate, meaning former governor Mike Rounds (R) is now a heavy favorite to succeed retiring Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.).

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) debuts his criticism of Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) in the New Jersey special Senate election, saying Booker's kibitzing with Gov. Chris Christie (R) hasn't done the state any good.

Controversial Virginia GOP lieutenant governor nominee E.J. Jackson's book misspells the word "commandments" on its cover.

Former Nebraska state treasurer Shane Osborn (R) has signed up OnMessage, Inc., as his media and general consultant for the open Nebraska Senate race.

Former congressman Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) is convicted on 17 of 32 charges.

new DCCC poll shows Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) with a double-digit lead in his rematch with Mia Love (R).

Must-reads:

"Two labor groups buck trend of union support of Obama on immigration" -- Joe Davidson, Washington Post

"N.S.A. Disclosures Put Awkward Light on Previous Denials" -- Scott Shane and Jonathan Weisman, New York Times

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Juliet Eilperin · June 12, 2013