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Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Democrats increasingly hold all the cards on mid-cycle base issues

by David Atkins

Remember the Karl Rove strategy of putting gay marriage initiatives on state ballots to drive up GOP turnout and wedge away socially uncomfortable centrists from the Democrats? Remember how back in the Pete Wilson days Republicans used to use immigration as a way of boosting their base and scaring Democrats? Remember how Republicans used to use the drug war campaigns to intimidate Democrats?

The shoe is now on the other foot. All of these issues are now working in Democrats' favor. On immigration, Greg Sargent has the details:

Now that Republicans have made it clear that they will not participate on any level in basic problem solving when it comes to our immigration crisis, it is now on Obama to determine just how far he can go unilaterally, particularly when it comes to easing the pace of deportations. This is going to be one of the most consequential decisions of his presidency in substantive, moral, and legal terms, and politically, it could set off a bomb this fall, in the middle of the midterm elections.

I’m told there are currently internal discussions underway among Democrats over whether ambitious action by Obama could be politically harmful in tough races. According to two sources familiar with internal discussions, some top Dems have wondered aloud whether Obama going big would further inflame the GOP base, with little payoff for Dems in red states where Latinos might not be a key factor. I don’t want to overstate this: These are merely discussions, not necessarily worries.


One place where this is plainly true is Colorado. As I noted here yesterday, GOP Senate candidate Cory Gardner is likely to find himself increasingly on the defensive on immigration, and this is one top-tier race where an aggressive pro-reform stance from Dems could actually help deliver victory.


Beyond this, though, my sense of internal discussions currently underway is that no one is really sure how the politics of this will play out. Indeed, to hear one source familiar with those discussions tell it, Dems mostly see this as guesswork, since we’re in largely uncharted political territory here: Yes, Americans support immigration reform and a sensible path to legalization, but no one knows how the public will greet unilateral action to bring about temporary relief from deportation, at least for some.

Indeed, this is probably a a six-of-one, half-a-dozen-of-the-other situation: While aggressive action will provide fodder for Republicans to drive their base into a frenzy with #ObummerTyranny talk, it could also bait Republicans into overreach that alienates swing voters and motivates the Dem base in a year when the midterm dropoff problem is putting control of the Senate in peril.
Immigration is a huge thorn in the GOP's side. It likely won't, but even if executive action on immigration does backfire slightly on Democrats this cycle by putting the GOP base into a frenzy, the benefits in 2016 and beyond will be more than worth.

Marriage equality is another issue where Democrats hold the cards and are using them to embarrass GOP candidates, including Scott Walker.

And as Americans grow increasingly sour on the drug war and Colorado leads the way in demonstrated success, legalization initiatives will likely spring up all over the country as a way of putting conservatives on the defensive and driving progressive turnout.

In fact, it's hard to envision the issue on which Republicans could bring ballot initiatives forward to tie Democrats in knots. The country has moved past all their old standbys, and in many cases Democrats are using them against the GOP today.

It's just another way in which the power struggle may continue to look bleak at times, but the structural playing field is tilting further and further away from Republicans. At a certain point, all the corporate election cash in the world won't be able to save them.