One result of the Democrats’ loss in the Florida 13th Congressional District special election has been to convince them that their only hope in November is to turn out their base. This means Senat Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) talks like crazy about the Koch brothers. It means House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) doubles down on Obamacare. (“I think the Republicans are wasting their time using that as their electoral issue, and they will find that out.”) Unless you believe the two congressional leaders don’t read polls or actually believe the stuff they are saying, you have to conclude these utterances are morale boosters for the base. The danger they are trying to head off, of course, is that a good year becomes a great year for Republicans because the demoralized liberal base sits home, leaving Democrats on the bubble to get slaughtered by an avalanche of enthusiastic Republican voters.
The save-the-base-it’s-all-we-got strategy winds up, unsurprisingly, pumping up the Republican base, which recoils when the Senate majority leader attacks a businessman or the president makes more unilateral moves. President Obama tries to mollify his base by fiddling with the rules for federal overtime via executive order; the GOP hollers this is another instance of executive overreach. The White House sets the bar so low for claiming a “hardship” exemption from the individual mandate (it doesn’t have the nerve to flat out repeal or delay it) that it’s practically nonexistent; again, the GOP screams this is destructive of the rule of law and creates even more havoc. (What about the honest people — some would say gullible people — who thought they’d be fined so went out and bought insurance they couldn’t afford and didn’t want?)
All of this Democratic angst still leaves hapless red state Democrats in a bind. No wonder the National Republican Senatorial Committee is painting Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, who’s running against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, as Alex Sink’s twin. (Its latest e-mail blast argues: “For folks at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Alex Sink was the dream candidate – a woman far removed from Washington with high name recognition and a knack for fundraising. Sound familiar? It should, because it’s a model that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has guaranteed for months would equal success in 2014 Kentucky. Lundergan Grimes is essentially taking a page from the same playbook that lead the destruction of Sink’s campaign . . .”)
Larry Sabato now moves his predicted 2014 Senate election result to a 49-48 split in favor of the Republicans with three toss-ups. But that doesn’t even include Colorado, Virginia or New Hampshire — all of which may be in play. (“To demonstrate just how Republican this year’s Senate playing field is, consider this: Of the 36 Senate elections this year (33 regularly scheduled and three specials), the Crystal Ball sees 16 as at least potentially competitive at the moment. Of those races, 14 are currently held by Democrats, and just two are held by Republicans.”)
The challenge for Republicans now is to come up with at least a temporary substitute for Obamacare that protects those with preexisting conditions, those harmed by Obamacare and a lot of young people (some of whom want to stay on their parents’ plans and some who probably would like their money back now that it’s clear the mandate can be easily evaded). If they keep the focus on that, on a pro-jobs energy package and on selecting plausible candidates they’ll take the Senate.