As Republicans and Democrats jockey for advantage months before the fall elections that could swing control of the U.S. Senate back to the GOP, both sides are honing the messages they think will spark the best turnout.
For Republicans, it's Obamacare.
For Democrats, it's economic equality.
(Continued Republican control of the House is probably a foregone conclusion, thanks to smart maneuvering by Republicans. As the Associated Press reported last month, “Gerrymandering has a long history in the United States, pursued enthusiastically by both Democrats and Republicans. But the GOP's success at it this decade has been historic: In 2012, Republicans maintained a 33-seat majority in the House, even though GOP candidates as a group got 1.4 million fewer votes than their Democratic opponents.)
Looking toward the fall, Republicans are thought to have a built-in turnout advantage; their side is angrier -- about Obamacare, of course -- and angry voters are more likely to show up at the polls to register their displeasure.
But Democrats have a built-in demographic advantage; they are beneficiaries of what has been dubbed the “Rising American Electorate” – unmarried women, people of color and young adults who are far more likely to be Democrats than Republicans.
Unfortunately, these folks often sleep through midterm elections.
Democratic pollsters Stan Greenberg, James Carville, Erica Seifert and Page Gardner put it more delicately in a memo this week. “These voters," they wrote, "are vulnerable to non-voting in off-year elections.”
“As we learned in 2010,” the pollsters wrote, “these voters are critical to Democrats’ fortunes, but they are unlikely to to vote, and less likely to give Democrats big margins, if Democrats are not laser focused on the issues that matter most to them.”
So what matters to them? Well, for women especially, “pocketbook issues” -- like paycheck fairness, help for working mothers that includes affordable child care and paid family leave, raising the minimum wage and protecting Medicare and Social Security.
President Obama no doubt had those very concerns in mind on Tuesday when he signed two female-friendly executive orders aimed at narrowing the gender wage gap, which everyone admits exists, though there is a lot of controversy about how much and why.
And when, on Wednesday, Senate Republicans blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act that Obama urged them to pass, Republicans handed Democrats what could be a nice cudgel for the coming midterms.
Whipping up anti-Obamacare hysteria, once thought to be as surefire a tactic for Republicans this fall as it was in 2010, may not be the GOP's ticket after all.
Republicans crowed after the Democrat in a closely watched Florida special congressional election was narrowly defeated by Republican David Jolly last month. But the Democrat, Alex Sink, was bombarded by anti-Obamacare advertising, and she lost by less than two percentage points. Also, EMILY's List President Stephanie Schriock told me, Sink beat Jolly among independents by a 25 percentage point margin.
Now that the president's healthcare law is being implemented, now that signups have exceeded original targets, now that children are able to stay on their parents’ policies until they turn 26, insurance companies can no longer deny care based on preexisting conditions and routine preventive care is provided free of cost, it’s going to be hard to stop the upward trajectory of approval for the law.
“This election is not going to be about Obamacare,” predicted Schriock. “It’s still about the economy, and this is why we talk about fair pay and the minimum wage. This is not political maneuvering. This is what we believe in.”
Whether that's enough to keep Democratic voters awake enough to get to the polls remains to be seen.