If Democrats are not in full panic mode after Tuesday’s CBO report on Obamacare they must have excellent poker faces. The CBO report delivered a devastating salvo against Obamacare. Specifically, that by 2017 the law would cost the economy 2 million jobs, 2.5 million total by 2024. The law would still leave 31 million people without health insurance by 2024. The law would discontinue millions of existing insurance plans (If you like your plan you can keep it). Perhaps most importantly for conservatives pedaling the “We are becoming socialists” talk the law would disincentive work and lastly would increase taxes on certain employer-provided Health Insurance plans (ie. your paycheck will be smaller).
Few Democrats were running to embrace the law after its disastrous roll out. But until this report they had the luxury to act in the mold of red state Democrat Mary Landrieu (LA), who has called for fixing the law. This report all but proves the law is fatally flawed. Few Democrats can now run on fixing a law the nonpartisan CBO says will eliminate at least 2 million jobs by 2017. This leaves them little recourse but to recycle the 2012 Presidential race and 2013 Virginia gubernatorial race theme of the GOP waging a “War on women.” This theme argues that the GOP is waging a war against women by not wanting to give them free contraception, limiting abortions or being anti-single parent households (glad I am a guy, yikes).
This theme has befuddled numerous Republicans since 2010. More specifically, in 2010 Ken Buck blew his Senate victory in Colorado by commenting on rape and college students. Senator Michael Bennett used his words in the final days of the campaign to hit Buck on. In 2012 Congressman Todd Akin and Indiana State Treasurer Richard Murdock blew their chances to win Senate seats by commenting on rape. Their comments also allowed Obama to pin their views to Mitt Romney (does he not look like a women hater). Most recently, in 2013 in Virginia, prior comments by former AG Ken Cuccinelli allowed his opponent, Terry McAuliffe, to tie him to the social right.
There is also another factor to consider. The modern Democratic party has shed white voters at a record clip. In 2010 the party won a mere 33% of white voters compared to the GOP’s 64%. In 2012 Obama recorded winning the fewest whites, 39%, of any Democratic nominee since Walter Mondale in 1984. The Democratic Party has replaced their former white base with younger voters, singles and minorities as well as high income suburbanites. Minus the high income suburbanites the Democratic base eagerly eats up the social arguments against the GOP.
Thus for many Democrats the temptation to attack the GOP on social issues may be overwhelming. This will help Democrats in purple or blue states who could be in danger but it is unlikely to swing voters in red states. Democrats hoping to take or hold Senate seats in red states will find this argument having limited impact. Consider that in states like Georgia and Kentucky Democrats need the suburbs to carry them over the top. Yet they run into the problem that suburbanites in these states do not respond to the social issues argument like the Democratic base (let alone in blue states). Likewise in red states such as AK, LA, SD, WV, NC, and AR their arguments will only work with their base. It is unlikely to draw Independents or moderate Republican support in the face of worries over Obamacare and the stagnant economy.
Still, social issues may be the best option Democrats have in the midst of only bad options. Furthermore, Democratic leadership may decide since it worked in 2012 and 2013 that it can work in 2014. Their is certainly evidence for this line of thought (laid out above) but it only goes so far. Getting the base out to vote is one thing but it does not guarantee electoral wins. Consider in 2010 that the electorate was only 1% less Democratic than 2006 (when they took over Congress) and 2% less Democratic than 2008 (when they retook the White House) and yet Democrats still lost 63 House seats, 6 Senate seats and numerous Governorships and hundreds of legislative seats. The reason is simple; Independents swung to the GOP by a decisive margin and these same Independents favored Mitt Romney over the President. Democrats need to win these Independents. Campaigns based on social issues are unlikely to distract them from worry over Obamacare and the economy.
Social issues offer Democrats some solace. It likely will allow them to keep blue states blue but it is unlikely to save their Senate majority, help them retake the House, or make significant gains in state executive or legislative races. Rather, it may only help the party avoid disastrous losses.