The mid-term elections are a year away, but don’t expect a tidal wave of voter anger to overthrow the current party control of the House and Senate. That’s the opinion of some of the nation’s top observers of Congressional races.
Veteran political handicapper Charlie Cook, publisher of the Cook Political Report, says Republicans face the challenge of trying to “fix their overall brand image” – particularly with women and minority voters.
The GOP also has a challenge with younger voters, he says, but that demographic isn't necessarily a slam dunk for Democrats.
In California, 35% of voters over the age of 50 are registered Republican. But among those under 50, just one in five votes with the GOP. This, according to the latest USC/LA Times poll.
But Cook says millennial voters have more in common with the GOP than you’d think. “They don’t hate government like conservatives hate government,” he says. But they don’t love government either, he notes, “like liberals do. Instead, they’re just very skeptical of the effectiveness of it.” Cook says the experience of millennials has been that government doesn’t work very well.
Cook, who’s published his political report for the past three decades, says millennials share many of the views of the libertarian wing of the GOP. “If it wasn’t for social/cultural issues” of the GOP, Cook doesn’t think millennials would be voting “nearly as Democratic as they are today.”
Democrats face their own challenges in the mid-term elections — “a classic case of second term fatigue,” according to Cook. The latest Gallup Poll shows President Obama’s approval rating has been dropping one point a month since the election, now scraping along at around 40% — the same as President Bush’s approval rating in his second term in the middle of the Iraq war. Cook says there’s curiosity about a new president — "energy, passion, momentum, new ideas, and excitement." A second term is when “the chickens come home to roost” — in this case, the fallout over Obamacare.
David Wasserman analyzes House races for the Cook Political Report. He says Democrats need to win 17 seats to retake the House, a tough challenge in 2014.
One seat they have their eye on is the 31st Congressional district in San Bernardino currently held by Gary Miller. Wasserman says Miller is considered “by far the most vulnerable incumbent on the Republican side.” He calls Miller’s win last year a “fluke” because of California’s “top two” election rule. Even though the district has more Democrats than Republicans, Miller found himself running against a fellow GOP candidate in November because Democratic candidates split the primary votes.
Hanford Republican Congressman David Valadao is also a Democratic target. His Central Valley district is even more Democratic than Miller’s, but Wasserman says Democrats didn’t push hard in 2012 to take the seat. And Valadao is courting his heavily Latino district by supporting a path to citizenship as part of immigration reform.
But it's unlikely Democrats can get anywhere near that magic number of taking back 17 seats in 2014. Cook cites a Democratic pollster who told him voters want to punish the GOP, who they blame for the government shutdown, but they don’t want to reward the Democrats. The political fallout from the shutdown is already fading. And barring a second shutdown or some other calamity closer to next year’s election, Cook says it’s unlikely that the leadership of the House and Senate will switch.