Democratic hopes to retake control of the Senate may not yet be fading, but they’re being tested. Six months ago, Ohio and Florida looked ripe for takeaways from the GOP. Now, the DSCC has decided to cut bait in both states and are retrenching in other battlegrounds instead, as both Rob Portman and Marco Rubio have proven too resilient to fall:
The top group helping Democrats win Senate seats is canceling advertising in Florida and Ohio to invest more heavily in Missouri and North Carolina.
The financial rejiggering by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spells the latest disappointment for Ohio Democratic Senate hopeful Ted Strickland, who is being abandoned by the party as he plummets in the polls. It’s also ominous for Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, who’s fighting incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio in Florida.
By shifting cash, the Democrats are revealing two elements of their strategy that would have surprised anyone 18 months ago: They believe they can win in Missouri and North Carolina.
A DSCC official confirmed the cancelation of Florida and Ohio buys for the period between Oct. 4 and 10. The source said the DSCC has put an additional $2 million into Missouri and $4.2 million into North Carolina, as well as $2.5 million into Indiana, where former Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh is looking to win back his seat.
The investment in Indiana should also raise eyebrows. Many assumed that pulling Bayh out of retirement would make this a walkover. Instead, Bayh only leads within the margin of error and can’t get above the mid-40s against the far lesser known Todd Young. Bayh’s lobbying career and his lack of time in Indiana has made him only marginally better than Baron Hill. If the DSCC has to rescue Bayh, then his unretirement has been all but pointless.
Compare that to Florida and the drafting of Rubio for a re-election bid. Prior to that, the race looked somewhat bleak for Republicans, as Patrick Murphy was arguably better known than any of the GOP primary candidates to succeed Rubio. By getting the popular incumbent to reluctantly jump back in the race, the GOP may have stolen a victory from the jaws of defeat — and rather than spending time defining the already well-known and well-liked Rubio or a relative unknown in his place, they can focus on defining Murphy instead. And that has been surprisingly easy to do.
Another interesting aspect of this will be its impact on other races. Money spent by the DSCC in Ohio and Florida would raise the profile of its Senate candidates, but it also would have some secondary or tertiary benefits for Hillary Clinton. Florida and Ohio combine for 47 Electoral College votes. Missouri and North Carolina only add up to 25, and even with Indiana still only come up to 36. Granted, all of the new states are in Republican territory from 2012, but it still looks like a retreat by Democrats.
Why are Democrats having such a tough time in a Senate cycle that should see Republicans having to stretch limited resources to defend 24 seats? In my column Thursday for The Fiscal Times, I argue that the diagnosis is ObamaCare. And it’s going to get worse for Democrats before November 8th, especially in the last week:
Republicans succeeded in capitalizing on a badly fumbled 2013 rollout of the ACA exchanges and converting it to a second successive landslide midterm election. At that time, Democrats offered a futile argument that the program had gotten back on track after a bad start. This time, with insurers bailing out of the program and voters bearing the brunt of sharply escalating costs, the GOP believes it can strike gold again.
“It feels like there’s a sleeping giant that’s about to awaken on the campaign trail,” Republican strategist Ron Bonjean told The Hill’s Sarah Ferris. “It really does seem like an easy target, an easy layup for Republicans to score points.”
If so, it will be a last-second play that will determine the success of that layup. As bad as voters perceive Obamacare now, wait until November 1st, when many ACA exchange consumers will find out that they can’t keep their current plans or insurers, and many more have to work through massive price increases to meet their legal obligation for coverage. Even more voters will find out from employers how much the increased costs will eat into their 2017 income, forcing them backward instead of forward in buying power.
Republicans just might score the layup on continued GOP control of the Senate in those final seven days. And if they do, Democrats have no one to blame but themselves for their rush to slam-dunk a disastrously bad law in March 2010.