2014 and the Virginian Microcosm

The President is facing record low approvals -- which makes him the most popular man in Washington. Observe:

NBC News' First Read: How low can President Obama and Congress go? We’re watching both continue to sink in polls. A Quinnipiac survey released yesterday found that Obama’s approval rating had dropped to 39%, which is his lowest point in that poll (we’re in Bush territory, folks). More ominously, just 44% said the president was honest and trustworthy -- yet another all-time low -- compared with 52% who disagreed.  Meanwhile, Gallup showed that Congress’ job-approval rating had declined to a mere 9%, which is the lowest mark in the poll’s 39-year history of asking that question. This race to the bottom isn’t new, of course. Our NBC/WSJ poll released late last month -- after the government shutdown, after the standoff over the debt limit, and after a month’s worth of reported problems with the federal health-care website -- also found Obama (42% approval) and the Republican Party (22%-53% fav/unfav) reaching all-time lows. But what these new polls show is that the slides don’t appear to be stopping.

So free falling Republican of free falling Obama? I think most thinking people would rather be in the President's position right now.  There's usually a second term slump, when the president becomes emblematic of the status quo -- and this is probably one of the more extreme examples of that -- but congress doesn't have that excuse. First Read speculates on what this means for the midterms and largely ends with a shrug, but there's a really good small scale experiment out there that's just concluded and is nearly a perfect representation of what many 2014 voters will face; i.e., given a choice between two candidates who suck and who voters hate, which would they choose?

USA Today: Top campaign aides to Virginia Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe and his GOP opponent, Ken Cuccinelli, agreed Wednesday on two things about the just-concluded bitter campaign: that the federal government shutdown was a critical factor in Cuccinelli's defeat, and that political fact-checking has become so prevalent it is in danger of become irrelevant.

Chris LaCivita, who served as Cuccinelli's chief political strategist, and Ellen Qualls, McAuliffe's senior adviser, shared their insights on the race at a post-election forum organized by George Mason University and the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.

LaCivita said that the shutdown "more than anything ... is what cost us the race" because it knocked the campaign completely off-message at a critical moment.

"We launched our first TV ad Sept. 25 leading up to Oct. 1 because we had everything geared toward Oct. 1," he went on. "That that was going to be the launch pad and then — boom — shutdown."

Cuccinelli tried to distance himself from the shutdown, but his close relationship to the Tea Party nuts responsible for it pretty much made that impossible. As Governor of Virginia, he would've been in no position to contribute to the gridlock in Washington and he wouldn't be shutting government down or crashing the economy with the debt ceiling or any of the other all-out assaults on the American economy that Tea Party Republicans have become so hated for. It wasn't that people were afraid he'd be a DC 'bagger -- because he couldn't be. But the endorsements by fruitpies told voters who he was. And who he was was someone that voters liked even less than gladhanding used car salesman Terry McAuliffe. Behind all the talk about liberty and freedom and how the Tea Party is all about what the founders had in mind, there's a closet full of molotov cocktails, ready to be thrown at anything or anyone they disagree with -- consequences be damned.

Now imagine it's 2014 and you're a Tea Party fruitpie running for reelection. How do you think that's going to work out? McAuliffe adviser Ellen Qualls said that internal polling showed a close race throughout, but that "we spiked during the shutdown. If the election had happened during the shutdown we would have had a bigger win."

Will the shutdown be a big issue with voters come November 2014? Maybe not. But how they behaved during the shutdown, which side they took, speaks to their character. If the government shutdown isn't going to be first and foremost in people's minds next year, they aren't going to like the shutdown any more than they do now, either. And, like Cuccinelli, it won't be so much about what they did as it will be about what kind of politician they are. Whether that's enough to give Democrats a good election night remains to be seen, but it won't hurt Democrats to remind people who these Republican Tea Party types are.

It won't hurt them at all.


[photo via Wikimedia Commons]

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