Earlier this week, President Barack Obama was interviewed on a radio show hosted by the Reverend Al Sharpton. Obama expressed frustration but understanding at the idea that Democrats, particularly those in tough Senate races in red states, don’t want him campaigning for them and are distancing themselves from him and his policies. He has acknowledged the fact that this is a tough election year and that Democrats need to do whatever they think will help them win, since maintaining control of the Senate is extremely important.
However, the president was quick to point out that he knows that these Democrats do support him and most importantly, his policies, noting that they voted for them. Now, I’m sure Democrats cringed when they heard this as this goes against the anti-Obama strategy they had as they competed with strong Republican challengers. But Republicans are definitely elated, quickly using these words as sound bites in campaign ads. Obama said something similar at a rally, mentioning that while he isn’t on the ballot during these midterm elections, his policies are.
The problem here is that Democrats are allowing the Republicans to dominate conversations and are hoping that voters have selective memory. For example, they have allowed Republicans to co-opt the conversation around healthcare as they divisively dubbed the Affordable Care Act, “Obamacare”. Republicans essentially folded on using the healthcare law as the issue of the midterm elections, and Democrats dropped the ball by not calling them out on being against something that has worked in many ways across the country, even in red states such as Kentucky. Instead of doing that, they allowed the Republican’s anti-Obama chants to stand unanswered and now they are distancing themselves from the president.
A better strategy would be to explain why they supported the policies they have and to highlight areas of agreement they have with the President and why these policies are good for their constituents. In Kentucky, Alison Lundergan Grimes would have been better off saying that she agrees with the president on the Affordable Care Act, as opposed to her current strategy of not elaborating on who she voted for – though we all know it was for Obama. The Affordable Care Act is very popular in Kentucky; so popular that even Mitch McConnell has eased his rhetoric when opposing “Obamacare”. Grimes missed an opportunity there.
Overall, this proves that Democrats consistently lose the debate on the issues. When you contribute to making the debate about an unpopular president as opposed to making it about the issues, you have lost touch and unfortunately, Democrats will suffer some losses because of it. I just hope that Democrats do not lose the Senate because of this failure in strategy. President Obama is right to be frustrated with the politics of the midterm elections and I hope this leads to better Democratic strategy sessions after November 4.
USA Today – Obama: Democratic candidates support me
Washington Post – Obama Gift Wraps Another Sound Bite for Republicans