To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

This week:

  • Obama chickens out on immigration change
  • Senate big picture darkens slightly for Dems
  • What’s the matter with you, Kansas?

Immigration: President Obama’s sudden chicken-out on executive action on immigration is the biggest political news from last week. His decision to defer any action until after this fall’s election has allayed fears of a threatened government shutdown that almost certainly would have helped his party politically ahead of the midterm. The decision has also outraged Hispanic activists. But most importantly, it represents Obama backing down from a bluff. It has given a clear impression of where Democrats really think they are on the issue, which is quite a different story from the way they discuss it on the record.

The White House explanation for Obama’s decision, which should not be taken at face value, is that they do not want immigration to be blamed for coming losses. If so, this at least doesn’t speak well to Democrats’ expectations for the coming election. But it also implies that they see little or no net political benefit to acting on immigration. This badly undercuts the increasingly common Democratic triumphalism over their imminent demographic change. If this is such a great issue, why are they chickening out just when it should help them?

Although it is debatable just how likely a government shutdown is, the same actors are there to make it happen who did so last October. And in the event of a shutdown, the chance of Republicans being blamed, regardless of the circumstances, are nearly 100 percent. That might be what it would take to save Democrats in this year’s election.

But the threat of a shutdown as a reaction to executive action on immigration — played up deliberately by the White House just like the impeachment threat — is just another Obama bluff. In the real world, it isn’t likely at all.

Plus, immigration just isn’t as good an issue for Democrats as they would have people think. It is a decisive issue on the positive side with only a very small number of voters — by no means are all or even most Hispanic voters swung by it.

On top of that, Hispanic voters simply will not be deciding most of the key races of election 2014, just as their margins for Obama in 2012 — although astounding on a national level — were not decisive for him in any state except Florida. With the exception of a few key House races this year (in at least two competitive Arizona districts, three in California, one in Texas, and then Colorado-6), the issue just isn’t likely to help Democrats more than it hurts them. In this cycle’s competitive Senate races, for example, there just aren’t any states with large enough Hispanic populations to make the benefits of executive action outweigh the downside. 

Senate 2014

Outlook: Election Day is less than two months away, and it has been a rough couple of weeks for Senate Democrats as they seek to maintain their majority. The normal ebbs and flows of the campaign season have mostly been leaning against them lately in a number of states.

In Louisiana, their incumbent has become bogged down in irritating controversies related to her residency and taxpayer-funded travel. In Montana, Democrats lost their semi-viable candidate to a plagiarism scandal and replaced him with someone who is without question unelectable. In Iowa, their top-shelf nominee turns out to be unexpectedly gaffe-prone, and could well be done in simply by his threats to sue his neighbors over a chicken. In Alaska, their incumbent nominee just ran an ad (it earned a pants-on-fire rating) that had to be pulled and will almost certainly backfire on him.

Some races have been going less horribly, but poorly all the same. Democrats have watched Mitch McConnell, R, start to pull away in Kentucky, their nominee lose her first debate (quite widely acknowledged) in North Carolina, and a glimmer of hope possibly vanish in Kansas due to a simple failure to follow directions (see below).

Right now, the competitive Senate races that are going better for them seem to be Georgia (where Michelle Nunn, D, remains a slight underdog) and then a handful of their own states (such as Michigan) that shouldn’t really be competitive in the first place, but still are.

The hardest part of the 2014 cycle for them, however, remains something that hasn’t changed at all — the map, and the red tint of the states in which the important Senate races are being run.

These are states where President Obama is far, far less popular than he is in the nation as a whole. That includes even swingy Colorado and Iowa, where the lack of a large, supportive African-American voting bloc might account for his rock-bottom ratings. Iowa, after all, gave him his first big boost toward the presidency in 2008 but his ratings hover around 40 percent.

The latest Battleground poll tells the story: Obama’s disapproval rating is at 51 percent overall. But in Senate battleground states, he is at 63 percent disapproval. That puts Democratic Senate candidates at a huge structural disadvantage, before they’ve made a single misstep of their own.

This year’s midterm election resembles that of 2006, if you only look at the period in that year before the House page scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla. It already seemed like Republicans were going to lose, but it was hard to say how badly. The dam broke all at once, and the losses were catastrophic. So far, that Mark Foley moment — whatever form it might take — hasn’t arrived, and Democrats hope it never does.

Kansas:Remember back in grade school, when your teacher made such a big deal about following directions? There is a real-world application for that lesson, and Democrats are finding that out the hard way in Kansas right now.

After Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor, D, won his primary, Democrats quickly realized they had a dud on their hands. Feminists bristled at the nomination because Taylor had been involved in a too-clever-by-half budget scheme in which he refused to prosecute domestic violence misdemeanor cases. The idea was to force the city of Topeka to bear the expenses of such cases, but the whole exercise backfired when Topeka’s city council repealed its ordinance against domestic violence in order to force the cases back on Taylor. National liberals raised a stink about it, and Taylor’s name is still mud.

In any event, Taylor was a lousy candidate. Normally, that wouldn’t matter, but it suddenly appeared that incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts, R, might actually be vulnerable (as well as the entire top of the Republican ticket) after a tough primary in which his Kansas residency was successfully cast into doubt. What a bad year to have a lousy candidate representing your party on the ballot.

And so under tremendous outside pressure — including from Sen. Claire McCaskill, D, of neighboring Missouri, the state party decided to drop Taylor and back the wealthy independent candidate who had entered the race, Greg Orman. Taylor acquiesced to the pressure last week and submitted, just before the statutory deadline, a letter asking to have his name removed from the ballot.

There was just one problem. According to Kansas law, a living nominee who wants his name withdrawn must declare in writing that he is incapable of performing the duties of office. It cannot be pleasant to make such a declaration, but it’s the law. Taylor did not mention this in his withdrawal letter, and Secretary of State Chris Kobach, R, declared that his name will therefore remain on the ballot. Democrats will challenge this in court. Kobach is clearly correct on the statute, but they will argue based on previous application of the law.

How much will Taylor’s presence on the ballot matter? It obviously depends, but it puts Orman at a disadvantage because straight-ticket Democrat voters will have to be educated carefully. That will require a greater commitment of resources in a state that is already structurally difficult — but not impossible — for Democrats. Even if Taylor’s zombie candidacy finishes with as little as 5 percent, that lowers the bar for Roberts, who was rather lacksadaisical about minding to Kansasns before Wolf became a threat. As we noted here months ago, it doesn’t help his cause that his fellow Republican senator, Jerry Moran, is devout about holding at least one town hall in every single county in the state (there are 105 of them) every single year. 

Of course, Democrats have to be grateful that they have any chance in Kansas at all, but they have proven in the past that they can win, and all of the winds are blowing in their direction there now as Gov. Sam Brownback, R, struggles. This appears to be the only example in 2014 of Senate Democrats having expanded the map in their own favor. The Tea Party challenge against Roberts by radiologist Milton Wolf really did soften Roberts up because its most potent attack — on his lack of a true Kansas residence — was completely accurate..