Midterm elections are won by the party that turns out its base and lost by the party that does not. Democrats have an inherent disadvantage in midterm elections because of a historically lower turnout of blacks, Hispanics and young voters compared to turnout in presidential elections.
Today, the range of probable 2014 Senate election outcomes is that Democrats come out with between 49 and 52 Democratic senators. The range of probable 2014 House election outcomes is that House Democrats come out between losing 3 seats and gaining 6 seats.
Under any of these outcomes, President Obama would emerge as a lame-duck president. Washington would remain a vast wasteland of massive gridlock and tiny mini-deals. The many retiring members appear to expect this.
There is a good chance the 2014 election would bring a massive anti-incumbent wave that would not help Senate Democrats but could create surprise gains for House Democrats. But even this would require a mobilization and turnout of the Democratic base in excess of historic patterns and current projections.
As Obama meets with Democratic leaders to plan for 2014, here is my warning:
To mobilize the Democratic base, the president and Democrats in Congress are going to have to do things much differently — fight much harder, battle much more visibly and act much more boldly than they have in recent years. Half-hearted battles, clever photo ops, slick talking points and long recesses will depress, not motivate, the Democratic base.
There is something pathetic and outrageous about watching the Senate fail yet again to enact jobless benefits as it prepares to leave yet again for another absurd recess. Meanwhile, at the moment the Senate was refusing to act on jobless benefits, the president was on television smiling at a ceremonial photo-op with the Miami Heat
Old habits die hard, which is why the president’s ratings have been frozen for some time in the 41 percent favorable, 52 percent unfavorable range. Unless this changes, it is Armageddon for congressional Democrats in 2014.
There is something sad and unacceptable about watching Democrats agree to cut food stamps for the hungry, while so many Americans remain poor, falsely believing they can rally their base by claiming they will cut food for the hungry less than Republicans would.
It is economic and political malpractice when the real jobless rate is at about 13 percent, when the labor participation rate is at three-decade lows and when another 370,000 workers dropped out of the workforce last month, yet for the fifth year in a row neither the president nor Democrats in Congress are aggressively fighting for a major jobs bill or addressing the nation and rallying their base to support it.
Occasional talking points about infrastructure, wheeled out for a brief news cycle three times a year, will not move the Democratic base to vote. Nor will photo ops with jobless workers without a major fight for a big jobs bill. Nor will claims that Democrats will cut food aid by less the GOP. Nor will minor changes to what most of the Democratic base believes is becoming a super-secret surveillance state. Nor will brief visits to North Carolina when the Democratic senator from that state wisely keeps her distance.
Nor will a State of the Union address that is like a Chinese food dinner — tasty for a news cycle but quickly digested and soon forgotten.
Virtually every American politician, from Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton, from Republicans in Congress to Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, is facing either declining numbers or escalating problems. The people of the nation are restive. The body politic is rejecting politicians, looking for action and hungry for change.
Democrats will fight harder or lose. The president has the bully pulpit. The Democratic base wants one less bully in Trenton and one progressive bully pulpit in Washington.
Photo: White House Photographer Pete Souza.