It was largely heard behind the scenes, but there was a fair amount criticism among Democratic congressional candidates in 2012 that President Obama was focused too much on his election prospects, and not enough on theirs. The concerns were not without merit – though Democrats fared quite well anyway, Obama and his team spent the year largely ignoring down-ballot races.
Looking ahead, the president has very different plans for 2014. Obama no longer has to worry about his own re-election, and he intends to take a keen interest in congressional races.
President Barack Obama has agreed to do more than just raise money for House Democrats’ effort to win back the majority in 2014: He is also going to help with candidate recruitment.
Obama will headline eight fundraising events in 2013 for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and more fundraisers are planned for 2014. But Obama’s agreement to help DCCC Chairman Steve Israel of New York make the sell to would-be candidates in targeted districts is also significant.
“It’s transformational,” Israel said in an interview, adding that House Democrats are “firing on all cylinders like I’ve never seen before.”
The Roll Call piece suggests this is an even greater priority for the president than one might imagine. Remember Obama’s victory speech in Chicago at 2 a.m. on Election Night? One of the very first things he did after leaving the stage was call Steve Israel and Nancy Pelosi, stressing his interest in the 2014 midterms.
Indeed, what the president has volunteered to do for Democratic candidates reportedly exceeds what party leaders had even asked him to do.
In late January, Messina got in touch. Israel carefully weighed his “ask” and hoped for the best. [Jim Messina, the president’s top political aide] came back with more than Israel even expected. That included Obama’s fundraising and recruitment help, as well as support from the president’s political apparatus. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will be doing fundraising events on behalf of House Democrats as well.
While I don’t doubt House Democrats are delighted to have this kind of backing, the it’s unclear how much Team Obama can realistically expect to do.
Remember, in Election 2012, Democratic congressional candidates defeated Republican congressional candidates in raw vote totals by well over 1 million votes. It helped shrink the House GOP majority, but it wasn’t nearly enough – Republicans at the state level had carefully gerrymandered district lines so that GOP candidates would win, even if Democrats earned more votes.
Indeed, it was the central feature of the Republicans’ “REDMAP” initiative, which they remain quite proud of.
Looking ahead to 2014, Democrats would need a net gain of 17 House seats to reclaim their majority. That’s not at all an enormous number, but given just how few competitive districts remain, it’s a real challenge.
That said, Obama knows all too well that success on this front will very likely make the difference between a successful second term and a frustrating one – the only thing standing in the way of the White House’s agenda is a radicalized House GOP majority. Is it any wonder the president wants to invest his energies in replacing it?
The hints of a Democratic campaign message are even starting to take shape: they intend to run against “chaos.”
Democrats, facing a challenging fight to retake the House of Representatives in 2014, see a promising new line of attack rising out of the fiscal cliff follies: casting the Republican congressional majority as a terminally dysfunctional body that cannot perform the basic functions of government, let alone lead the country through difficult times.
It’s easy to imagine the ads, asking voters if they remember the recent past, before there were frequent government-shutdown threats, debt-ceiling crises, and unbreakable gridlock.
It’s a heavy lift, but Obama told House Dems last week, “I would expect that Nancy Pelosi is going to be Speaker again pretty soon.”