Campaign 2014: a quick glance at the midterm elections

While there is debate on whether the Republicans should be running a nationalized campaign to recapture the Senate or if they should keep the campaigns localized, there is no debate that the Republicans have a serious branding issue. As Peggy Noonan noted in today’s Wall Street Journal:

A second reality is the GOP’s brand problem. Everyone knows about it and is tired of saying it; the Democrats continue exploiting it because it’s almost all they have. Moreover, history suggests a political brand problem gets resolved only by a vivid figure like FDR or Reagan, who through their popularity and power changed how people saw their parties. Republican politicians can’t sit around waiting for a vivid figure to come along, so they don’t talk about the problem anymore.

The cliché is that Republicans are old, white, don’t like women or science, are narrow, numeric and oppose all modern ways. The cliché probably isn’t as powerful as it used to be because the president has made so many new Republicans, but it’s still there.

Any Republican who has ever heard the question; ” You’re a Republican?” dripping with the corresponding condescension, understands that the Democrats and the media have done their job in vilifying the Republican party. A group of Republicans are attempting to undo this damage:

If the election where held today, according to, the Republicans would have a net gain of 7 senate seats. That is not a small accomplishment in any political environment but many are raising the bar so high that this would appear to be a minor achievement.

Peggy Noonan also notes the Democrat’s money advantage this year, but Sean Trende notes in his excellent and in depth analysis; “Senate Races: What September Polling Trends Tell Us”

even though Democrats have generally dominated the air wars recently.  They’ve succeeded in driving down Republican numbers, or holding them in check.  But they haven’t improved their own.

In Noonan’s piece, she also calls for the Republicans to have a specific national message:

Some feel a vague list of general stands might solve the problem and do the trick. They think it’s probably too late to do more than that. But there are 6½ weeks before the election, and plenty of voters would be asking for more information and open to changing their minds. In such circumstances, explicit vows are more likely to be taken seriously than airy sentiments

In a fair media environment I would agree with her. She overlooks the fact that anything the Republicans say or do will be attacked viciously by the media. The most recent example is the speech John Boehner  gave to the American Enterprise Institute last week. In the speech, he outlined a five point plan for resetting America’s economic foundation: fixing our tax code, solving our spending problem, reforming our legal system, reining in red tape, and improving our education system.

What was the media coverage of this?

Reuters: “U.S. House Speaker Boehner bemoans notion ‘I don’t have to work'”

Huffington Post: “John Boehner Is Sick Of Unemployed People That Would ‘Rather Just Sit Around'”

It doesn’t matter what the man said or what ideas he laid out for the American people, the liberal gatekeepers make sure the public never receives an accurate depiction. While I would usually advocate for a national message, the current condition of the Republican brand, the deficit in campaign finances and the hostile media environment require the Republicans to fall back on conventional political theory as noted by Sean Trende:

sooner or later the undecided voters will begin to decide.  And given that the Democrats are winning the votes of almost everyone who approves of the president’s job, they will have an uphill — though hardly insurmountable — battle with undecided voters.

If this theory is right, we should expect to see these races continue on the basic trajectory we’ve seen over the past few weeks: Democrats holding at their current levels.  Eventually, Republicans should begin or continue to improve, as undecided voters engage and make up their minds, and as Republicans narrow the spending battles.  Even if this theory is true, it won’t occur in every race, but it will be the general tendency.

If the polling trends of this week continue the Republicans are going to catch that wave.


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